Today's Veterinary Business

OCT 2018

Today’s Veterinary Business provides information and resources designed to help veterinarians and office management improve the financial performance of their practices, allowing them to increase the level of patient care and client service.

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42 Today's Veterinary Business Community The finding highlighted how a growing language gap could re- duce the effectiveness of veterinary professionals in this practice area. The article detailed how veterinary medical colleges, in this case Colo- rado State University, are increasing opportunities for students to learn Spanish so that they are better prepared to communicate with the emerging workforce. As I read the story, I considered an interesting theme that needs a bit of unpacking: Whose responsi- bility is it to learn a new language to make sure appropriate veteri- nary care is accessed? The short answer is that learn- ing a new language is everyone's job if it means working smarter and more effectively at producing healthy animals. A Top 3 Language English is the third most-spoken language in the world; Mandarin and Spanish far outpace English in international usage. Many coun- tries where English is not the native language teach it in grade school with the expectation of fluency development, even if English is not necessary in day-to-day living. The United States does not have an official language, but roughly 75 percent of Americans do not speak a language other than English. Second-language acqui- sition is generally not expected of native citizens in the United States. Ironically, this reality is some- thing that Americans have in common with the emergent farm workforce. Many workers are emi- grating from nations where there is little expectation or need for multilingualism. Therein lies the source of our language gap, but it does not have to stay this way. We all have to work to close the gap. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at least half of the for- eign-born population develop and have high levels of English-lan- guage proficiency. In fact, only 10 percent of the immigrant popula- tion speak no English at all. The data suggest that immigrants exert a lot of effort to gain English proficiency. Given that English is the dominant language spoken in the United States, it is only right that individu- als who desire to live and work here learn the primary language. But language acquisition takes time. The U.S. Foreign Service, known for its intensive language programs, reports that we can learn difficult, complex languages at a basic but functional proficien- cy level in about three months. Of course, this assumes you can invest about 10 hours a day, every day, in immersive language study. The approach is not reasonable, so learning a new language and achieving basic proficiency is going to take awhile for the average per- son. In fact, months to years might be needed. Community DIVERSITY TOOLBOX An Acute Problem In health care, slow language acqui- sition poses numerous problems, all leading to greater health risks. First, and most critically, a lack of lan- guage proficiency means less access to medical care. Non-English speak- ers are less likely to visit providers who are unable to communicate in the client's native language. If the number of multilingual providers re- mains low, there will not be enough providers to serve the population. Second, language gaps mean that both the provider and the client will have less confidence in the mutual comprehension around the clinical interaction. When a substantial language gap exists, how can you be sure that you understand the client or that the client understands you? How can you be sure that you have informed consent to perform a procedure? Finally, compliance and medical care follow-up can be a challenge because of gaps in understanding instructions given in a different language. Did you say administer a medication four times a day, four pills at a time or every four hours? The difference could be life-threatening. A Harvest Public Media article on demographic changes in production animal medicine made the social media rounds recently. The article, available at http://bit.ly/2BS9gT1, noted how a 2015 study by Texas A&M University found that roughly half of the dairy and meat-processing workforce is composed of immigrants, many of whom speak something other than English as their primary and often only language. By Lisa M. Greenhill, MPA, EdD The language of medicine Health care is harder to access when someone doesn't speak English, but you can bridge the gap by becoming multilingual, hiring a diverse staff and embracing numerous resources.

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