Can I be forced to take Spanish speaking classes?

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Hello Nurse Beth,

Let me start by saying I work in TX in an area that speaks English/Spanish. This is a predominantly Hispanic area and I am White. I have already been here for more than 8 years. I do not know Spanish (just basics and barely). I have been at my current job for 6 years.

My job just posted a sign saying they will have 3 classes that are MANDATORY for us to attend to become certified translators at the hospital. How do I handle this professionally? I say this because we have been going through changes with my hospital as far as new management within the last 8 or so months and they have been "getting rid of" a lot of the "older people" that have been there for years and bring in their own people from upper management even to nurses.

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Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

Dear How to Handle,

Handling the situation professionally and effectively is crucial, especially in a changing work environment. 

First, consider your own career goals and aspirations. Do you see yourself staying at this hospital long-term, or do you think it's time to explore other opportunities?

Reflect on the potential benefits of becoming a certified translator in your current role. It could open up new opportunities and improve communication with patients. It's a transferable skill and good to have on your resume.

Arrange a private meeting with your supervisor or manager to discuss your concerns and intentions.

  • Express your interest in understanding why this certification is now mandatory and how it will impact your current role.
  • Respectfully inquire about any alternatives or accommodations for employees who may find it challenging to meet this requirement.
  • If you feel that the mandatory certification may be disproportionately affecting you or your colleagues, communicate this non-confrontationally.
  • Emphasize your willingness to learn and adapt, but express your concerns about any potential negative impact on your job security.

Ask for Support

If learning Spanish poses a significant challenge, consider requesting support from your employer, such as language courses or tutoring.

Ask whether there are any plans to provide language training to help employees meet this new requirement.

Stay Informed

Keep yourself updated on any organizational changes, especially if there are ongoing restructuring efforts.

Network with colleagues and stay connected to understand how others handle the situation.

Consider Seeking Legal Advice

Suppose you believe that the mandatory certification is unfairly targeting you or others based on age, race, or other protected factors. In that case, you may want to consult with an employment attorney to understand your rights and options.

Explore Alternative Career Opportunities

Suppose you feel that the changes in your workplace are negatively impacting your career satisfaction and security. In that case, it may be an excellent time to explore other job opportunities, whether within or outside the hospital.

Document Communication

Keep records of any conversations, meetings, or correspondence related to this issue. This documentation can be helpful if you need to address the matter formally in the future.

Remember that change in the workplace can be challenging but can also present opportunities for growth and adaptation. Approach the situation with professionalism, open communication, and a willingness to learn. It's essential to consider your own career goals and well-being in the process.

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth


This is going to much more then three classes.  The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpretors requires completion of training specific to medical interpreting as well as  documented proficiency in bothe English and Spanish.

Specializes in Psychiatric and Mental Health NP (PMHNP).
chare said:

This is going to much more then three classes.  The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpretors requires completion of training specific to medical interpreting as well as  documented proficiency in bothe English and Spanish.

Good point.  No one is going to become fluent enough to be a certified translator with just 3 classes.

Specializes in ER.

This whole thing sounds weird. First off, the people that I have worked with are called 'Medical Interpreters'. They are trained in medical terminology. They would come into the room when I was triaging a patient, and then again when the doctor came. I could usually handle very basic Spanish for the rest of our interaction. Interpreters deal with spoken language.

A Translator is a different definition. Interpreters are the ones hospitals use. Translators work with written language. 

Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

These are excellent points, all.

Also, be sure to find out your responsibilities as a "translator." You don't want to be held liable because you were expected to translate medical terminology and aren't fluent.

Ask your manager the difference between a translator service (assuming they have contract with one) and nurses who have attended three classes.

Ask for and read the policies.

If the purpose of the classes is to train you to be conversationally fluent, this may be a great thing, given your demographic patient population.

If they are expecting you to translate for consents, for example-bad idea.

Specializes in Psychiatric and Mental Health NP (PMHNP).

I'm a bit confused.  You stated that the Spanish classes are mandatory to become certified translators.  Are all the nurses expected to be certified translators?  Or does this apply only to staff that want to become certified translators?

Thank you all for the advice.

The announcement they posted said: MEDICAL SPANISH VALIDATION CLASS  REQUIREMENT: (hospital name) Employees must be fluent in Spanish. Then the 4 dates you have to pick to attend the class.

I was able to speak with management today about this and my obvious concerns since I only know the basics like numbers and things like that not enough to have a conversation. Since I have to use the translation devices or someone that can speak fluent Spanish. They are changing and letting the employees know they are Strongly recommend and are pushing as many people that can take the class to be able to say they can interpret so we don't have to use the translation pads anymore but obviously if we can't (people like me that's not fluent) then I don't have to go to the class. They just didn't take into account that some of their employees don't speak Spanish (when they put Requirement for employees) even though the majority of the employees speak Spanish.


Specializes in Psychiatric and Mental Health NP (PMHNP).
duce2 said:

I was able to speak with management today about this 


Glad you were able to clear that up.  Speaking Spanish is a huge plus, so if management will let you take the classes, I strongly urge you to do so.  Even if you are not fluent, just being able to say a few things will really make your patients happy.  Best wishes