Bilingual jobs: how nurses can advance their careers by speaking languages

Career May 12, 2020

The 12th of May is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth and, as such, the date has been adopted all over the world as International Nurses day. Given the major relevance of this profession, and the enormous work nurses have been carrying out over the past few weeks, we decided to learn more about the job and how their world connects to ours – when nursing and languages come together.

For this purpose, we interviewed a Spanish nurse with ample experience working in the UK, who has now returned to her hometown and is eager to share her thoughts on her adventure abroad. María underwent her training in Nursing and also did a master’s degree in Palliative Care in Spain before being recruited by the British National Health Care and moving to Swindon, a small town in England.

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The UK – as many other countries world-wide – frequently reaches out to foreign professionals to supply the shortage in its health care system. María can confirm this – she told us most of the medical staff she came in contact with were originally from countries all over Europe as well as Australia, Philippines and Pakistan, among others.

Since Spain is one of many countries where there’s quite an imbalance between nursing graduates and actual open positions, she saw the opportunity of moving abroad as a great way to start off her career and get further training. Her first 3 months in the UK were a challenge: “When I went abroad, I thought I could speak English”, she says; but she found she had to get used to understanding different accents, new terminology and processing information quickly in order to react accordingly. However, although María had already done a couple of placements abroad and was able to work proficiently in English soon enough, she did highlight the fact that the UK requires foreign nurses to sit the IELTS exam in order to work in a British hospital.

Once she felt confident enough in her language skills and had become accustomed to the UK nursing system, she decided to move to a bigger city, where she trusted she’d have more professional opportunities, as well as travelling and other lifestyle options. It was mainly in Bristol where María found speaking two languages could really make a difference in her work given the high number of Spanish-speaking patients. She told us they would usually feel a lot more comfortable telling her about their symptoms and having someone they could talk to in their own language – this being said, medical translators and interpreters are legally required when communicating sensitive information such as worrying results, or dealing with particularly delicate cases like domestic violence.

When asked about how she now applies her language skills back in Spain, María shared a rather extraordinary story. There was an English patient in the medical ward she first worked in when she got back who was thought to be “out of it and confused”. This was so because although most of the staff did speak English, they weren’t accustomed to the sort of language a native speaker would use when feeling poorly. Since María had a lot of experience dealing with sick patients in a medical context through English, she soon managed to understand what her patient was going through and could provide appropriate care.

As for other lessons learned during her time abroad, she reflected on how the whole experience has changed her mindset. Having been exposed to different cultures and lifestyles, she now feels she’s a lot more open minded and easy-going as well as more knowledgeable about her profession. In fact, now she’s back in Spain, María feels out of her comfort zone and misses her life in England and her friends, who she says became her family over the years she spent abroad.

Her advice for nursing trainees is simple and concise: go abroad if you can and enjoy every single aspect of it. Aside from broadening your career horizons, it will change your mindset forever and allow you to discover a whole different side of life in ways “simply travelling for a bit doesn’t”. As for the language aspect, her insight is that “you know a language when you can use it in different contexts”, which is precisely what you gain by working abroad.

At ESL we couldn’t be more grateful to María for taking some time during these tough circumstances to share her experience with us and our readers. Details on how languages help professionals advance their careers and improve their work is without doubt an invaluable asset for all of us.

We hope all those hesitating to take the leap and move abroad for work will draw the same conclusion as we have from María’s comments: it will be an unforgettable experience that will bring endless benefits to both your professional and your personal growth. Want some help on finding a job overseas?

Work abroad with ESL

By Julia Hoyas

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