Clinical placements

Keep an open mind to overcome communication barriers

Using an interpreter helped mental health nursing student Deborah Ayodele understand her patient’s needs and correct a medication mix-up

Using an interpreter helped mental health nursing student Deborah Ayodele understand her patient’s needs and correct a medication mix-up 

While on placement with a home treatment team, I went with a social worker and an interpreter to see a client with depression. 

The client’s first language was Arabic and her English was limited, so using an interpreter enabled us to communicate with her more effectively. 

Look beyond the obvious to break down communication barriers. Picture: Getty Images.

While conducting a mental health examination, I noticed that the client was drowsy and unable to give me clear information. I decided to investigate this further, but it seemed difficult for her to understand some of the medical terminology I was using, even when interpreted.
With the help of the interpreter and some basic signing, I was able to start breaking down the language barrier. I discovered that she didn’t understand her medication instructions and had been taking it incorrectly. 

Clear instructions

The patient had been taking promethazine, an antidepressant, when she should have been taking sertraline, used as a sedative or antihistamine, and vice versa. This meant she was always sleepy, and explained why she was not feeling any better.

If she had continued to take her medication this way, it could also have affected her physical health. I asked the interpreter to translate the instructions from English to Arabic, and write them on the medicine boxes.

I then asked the patient to explain the instructions back to me to ensure she understood, and she did this well. At that moment, I truly felt like a nurse.

When I returned to the team base, I informed the patient’s consultant and other doctors of what I had discovered. I also raised it in the multidisciplinary team meeting so other members of staff were aware.

This experience helped me realise that nurses have the ability to break down the barriers that can exist between them and their patients, no matter how difficult it seems. It has encouraged me to always look beneath the surface and investigate all aspects of a patient’s care.

Proactive not reactive

Of all the health professional groups, nurses usually have the most contact with patients. This enables us to ensure care is proactive rather than reactive, by being aware, observant and open-minded in our interactions with patients.

I have learned to go deeper than just ticking off a list of things that need to be done during a shift, and I understand the value of making every single interaction count.

I have also realised that nurses play many different roles, and that sometimes we create roles. We fit into spaces we never imagined we could or would as we strive to do what we can to ensure our patient is well.

In this way, we can help prevent potential health problems for a patient, as well as treat those that already exist.

This experience gave me the confidence to be a proactive nurse, one who makes a difference to all my patients’ care.

About the author


Deborah Ayodele is a second-year mental health nursing student at King's College London

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