A French-English lexicon for health care is helping the Outaouais region retain nurses

A teacher at Cégep Heritage College bridges the language gap

Heritage College Nursing Teacher Suzanne Larochelle

Suzanne Larochelle, a nursing faculty teacher at Heritage College in Gatineau, Quebec October 14, 2015. (Photograph by Blair Gable)

Like most places in Canada, western Quebec has long faced a shortage of nurses, partly because of the aging population. But here, there has been another complication: language. For years, many of the graduating students at the only anglophone school in the Outaouais region, across the Ottawa River from the nation’s capital, were leaving for Ontario, where they could work in English rather than French. “Because it’s just a bridge we cross, we were not retaining our nurses,” recalls Suzanne Larochelle, a teacher at Cégep Heritage College.

To remedy the situation, she and colleagues developed a course in 2009 to help nursing students master French medical terminology, and started tracking where they wound up working afterward. The result has been dramatic, says Larochelle. “We kept statistics, and [found that] they were staying in Quebec. They’re still working in the region,” which includes Gatineau and Maniwaki.

That success inspired Larochelle to do even more. Last year, she published a comprehensive lexicon of English-French terms used in health care settings for nurses. It was an arduous process to assemble. “Every department I went to, I was asking the words we didn’t understand and putting it on paper. So when we went to a maternity unit, I did that; pediatrics, I did that. It ended up as quite a handbook.”

Since then, nursing students have begun carrying it with them during clinical rotations; it has also become a popular resource among anglophone CEGEPs around Montreal. Even veteran nurses have purchased the lexicon, says Larochelle. Nurses have told her, “It’s so helpful,” she recalls. “And that’s all I want to hear.” In a profession devoted to helping others, Larochelle has found her calling.

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