Sign Language - useful for nurses?

  1. I almost took a sign language course in my past and now that I am going back to school for nursing, I am considering it again. I was curious if sign language interpreters are a needed skill in health care settings especailly were nurses are concerned. Any feedback is much appreciated.
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  2. 10 Comments

  3. by   Stephanie in FL
    Quote from Hodge
    I almost took a sign language course in my past and now that I am going back to school for nursing, I am considering it again. I was curious if sign language interpreters are a needed skill in health care settings especailly were nurses are concerned. Any feedback is much appreciated.

    I would say to take the sign language class. I've been a nurse 15 years and have taken care of patients that know sign language. Learning any new language is useful in nursing. I live in Orlando and do home care. I have taken care of Russian, German, Italian, Chinese, French Creole, and Hispanic patients-sometimes it feels like all in the same week!

    Stephanie RN CDE
  4. by   meownsmile
    You might want to invest in spainish. I know mexican is a different dialect but deaf people can read and you can always write notes back and forth. There isnt really a problem with communicating with deaf people if you dont know sign language.
    It is the hispainic population that poses a problem in my area. A large number dont speak english,, and we dont have any staff nurses that speak fluent spainish. So we ultimately have to call around and get someone from our interpreter list to come in. It poses real problems sometimes if there is an emergency and we need to give instructions to have to wait for someone.
  5. by   akcarmean
    In the town I live in we have a deaf school and a huge deaf population so I have learned sign language. I think it really depends on what area you are in.


    Angie
  6. by   gwenith
    I knew an Enrolled nurse (LPN) who grew up with a deaf mother - she could sign like the wind. She was always used as an interpreter around our regional hospital BUT she grew up with the language which has subtleties beyond the pictures in the books. I don't say don't do it because any language is useful, but realise that to be really useful you have to practice regularly.
  7. by   chicoborja
    Are you taking ASL (American Sign Language) or SEE (Signing Exact English)? ASL is more common with the Deaf community whereas SEE and PSE (Pidgin Signed English) are more common in the schools. I hope that you are aware that taking one class in sign does not make one fluent, just as one course in Spanish or French does not make one fluent. I agree that Spanish would probably be the most useful; however, I imagine you should have easy access to interpreters at a hospital. The most useful language to learn will vary depending on the region you live in. Florida, Cali, and NM would prob have a high % of Spanish speakers whereas certain areas of the country have a high % of Asian language speakers (e.g., Vietnamese). In areas around some of the deaf schools and universites (e.g., Gallaudet) ASL might be the best choice. Best of luck to you but I think if you take up a language it should be for your own desire to learn rather than to add a potential asset to your employer.
  8. by   rnmi2004
    I took ASL & Deaf Culture classes. If you are considering any sign language class, make sure it includes Deaf culture or take an additional class to learn about the culture. It was very eye opening to me and will really help me with any Deaf patients I may have.

    Many of the Deaf have difficulties reading and writing English. It is tough to learn how to read & write when you can't hear the letter sounds.
  9. by   Antikigirl
    I had a patient one day back when I was just starting out that was lying in his hospital bed when I came on duty. No one bothered to tell me that he was deaf and only understood sign language...guess that would have been nice to know as I was about to tell him he was going home after his bi pass surgery and explain to him the information he needed to know before he left.

    I wrote down everything for him as soon as I found out, only to have him throw the paper at me and look very discouraged yet surprised! I was dumbfounded, here I was sending someone home..typically a happy event..and here he was acting what I felt to be very oddly! He was unwilling to use a writer board, so we were stuck...but it isn't like me to not head up a challenge head on!

    I was able to contact an intrepreter through the hospital (out of some dusty book of phone numbers long since forgotten!), but because there was only one available in my area, and she worked for all area hospitals...it took hours. By that time his wife came in, she too also only communicated in sign and would not use a writer board either. I came into their room to write that I had found an interpreter and I was sorry for the delay..and explained things to them. They looked at eachother and sobbed frantically...and I was so very confused!

    Finally the interpreter came, after hours of utter worry from me about my patient. Come to find out that the husband came in a week ago to the ED with chest discomfort, but they didn't understand that he had bypass surgery after having a heart attack in the ER! It was a total shock to them once I gave him the discharge orders..and they were upset and in total denial...the reason they would not communicate with me. The interpreter also told them how honestly worried I was about them, that I was brand new, and that I was a smart cookie in trying to find interpetation for Sign Language since not many facilities offer this. ( oh yeah, and I also learned that they felt that a writer board was offensive to them...some folks do feel that way...guess I found that out, and gave me much food for thought about other communication styles others may find offensive..but anyway...)

    Once they knew that I was that honestly concerned and worried they opened up to me via the interpreter. They told me the very sad story of him being so weak and on medications that he couldn't read well, and all this reading of information was not working...that no information was ever given to him in a way he understood. Poor guy...tears streaming down his and his wifes eyes out of utter frustration, fear..and finally someone to listen. I got their doctor/surgeon on the phone and insisted he come down ASAP now that we had an interpreter...which thank goodness he did! That helped volumes!!!!!

    On their way out they insisted I walk them out personally..and I did! They hugged me and thanked me so much that I actually cried! They were so appreciative that I took that extra time to help them, and again...one of the feathers in my cap of "I did well!".

    I have wanted to take sign language (ASL) ever since but the one time I did, I didn't get into the course (didn't win that lottery on that one...too many folks)..and now I am far too busy. But it is not out of my mindset, and someday I will..along with my hubby who is interested..but then again he wants to take Spanish because as a paramedic in our area..that is a big bonus! I saw the need first hand and watched that need cry and it broke my heart!

    I asked the interpreter about their job, and she made upwards to 40 bucks (IE one of the reasons the hospital didn't call or let nurses know they were available!) an hour because she was the only one, an advised strongly that if you are going to interpret, you do so on contract with your employer for being an interpreter...so that if you are called upon to interpret you get paid an agreed on fee for your services as one. That saves nurses, whom she said work to hard anyway to be running around as interpreters, from just being paid their wages yet provide interpretation for the entire facility PRN! Thought that was great advice!!!!! So you may want to think about that too...

    Good luck, and if you wish to take sign language..I say go for it!!!! Hey, you can always fall on being an interpreter for organizations, facilities, schools, and what not and make a real difference too!!!!!! !!!!!


    Oh yeah...sorry so long...but my local community college also offers what they call "coffee sign" where people can come weekly to a local coffee shop to practice their skills each week! You don't have to be a student to join in, nothing to sign up for...just show up and sign! I am not kidding one starbucks was jammed packed with nothing but people using sign language! Check out to see if this is offered..thought it was a great way to get your practice in, and a great mocha latte too!!! THey also 'sign and dine' at local resturuants bi monthly at a designated place listed on the internet! Great stuff and a valuable service!
    Last edit by Antikigirl on Jan 7, '05
  10. by   purplemania
    sign language is like any other language: when you need it you are grateful you know it. However, be aware there are legal concerns in nursing regarding translators. You would still want a certified translator to get consents signed. But everyday things like "Do you hurt?" "Are you thirsty" can really make your day so easier. Our facility uses a special phone service that connects in any phone outlet. The nurse and the patient are on the same phone at the same time, talking to a certified translator. We also have some rooms for deaf patients with special TV's for the translator to do sign language and talk to the nurse at the same time. We feel these tools help patient and nurse be comfortable with the care provided.
  11. by   mom and nurse
    I think any language you learn will be useful. My first degree was in Communication Disorders and I took sign language courses during and after getting that degree mostly from a school called Gallaudet college in Washington D.C. back in those days (Gallaudet University now). I used to volunteer on the campus at the Kendall school for the deaf, the Model Secondary School for the Deaf and the National Information Center on Deafness on Gallaudet's campus. I agree with the poster that with any language it's important to immerse oneself in the culture of the people who know that language. I remember I learned it well enough to interpret for a deaf employee back in those days and interpret the services at my church. But fluency only came because of my volunteering in situations in which I had to use the language.

    I graduated recently with a degree in nursing and passed the boards. I'm a new nurse now and I can honestly say the language I wish I knew more of is Spanish. Just last night I was trying to communicate with a gentleman who spoke only Spanish. Our area is always looking for folks who know Spanish due to the large population of Spanish speaking people around here.

    I'd say...learn the language......and volunteer somewhere where you can learn it fluently.
  12. by   SusanJean
    "Signing" is now considered a "second language" around here - satisfies that requirement for several of the area colleges.

    My daughter self-taught sign at 3-4 and I've been amazed at the number of people she finds to converse w/. She is always looking for someone to talk w/, one way or another.

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