Knowledge and Use of the English Language by Healthcare and Social Services Professionals in Québec

In Canada, everyone has the right to receive health and social services in the language of their choice—English or French (Official Languages Act, 1985). In Québec, health and social services legislation affirms English speakers’ right to receive health and social services in English.

From this perspective, it will be instructive to analyze whether healthcare providers communicate in the minority official language, i.e., English in Québec. Using the 2001 and 2006 censuses, Statistics Canada drew a picture of official-language knowledge among healthcare professionals, and we have examined that data to assess the situation in Québec. The province was divided into five (5) geographic regions that can be linked to Québec’s health and social services regions.

A number of linguistic variables are available from the census, including native language, language spoken at home, knowledge of official languages, and the derived “first official language spoken” (FOLS) variable2. This last variable is used to estimate the minority official-language population and is also used by Statistics Canada to determine whether healthcare professionals belong to the English-speaking minority. Statistics Canada also derives information from the census on their use of the English language as well as their knowledge of the language as declared in the census, i.e., the ability to conduct a conversation.

The selected professions are general practitioners, nursing staff, psychologists and social workers, and other healthcare professionals. Their population numbers were obtained from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) by Statistics Canada.

Since this is an analysis where population sub-groups (family doctors, nursing staff, etc.) are crossed with language variables (minority official language, language spoken at work, etc.) and observed on a regional scale, we are often faced with low population numbers. Results based on small numbers must, of course, be interpreted carefully. In addition, statistical tests were conducted to verify whether there is a significant gap between the various percentages (p ≤ 0.05). The Statistics Canada document explains the methodology used to make this calculation.

Since it is difficult to assess real linguistic abilities other than through self-declaration, we will present the indicator of minority language (English) knowledge, but we must remain cautious as to the conclusions that can be drawn in connection with access to services in English.

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