Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog

Leave a comment

Teaching English To Medical Professionals: A Professional Approach

Medical professional holding up and X-rayTeaching English to medical professionals, such as postgraduate doctors, requires a number of modifications in approach on the part of any teacher coming into ESP. At a recent event, a participant was reporting a discussion with a volunteer tutor about what he, a retired consultant in the medical field, should call the members of the group he was teaching. He didn’t feel it was right to call his fellow professionals ‘students’. A seemingly minor episode, but it does highlight the shifts that we as professionals need to think about when teaching other professionals. It may be that our students carry on being ‘students’, but our attitude towards them, our behaviour and our way of working does need to undergo some transformation. Continue reading


What If My Business English Students Know More Than Me?

Teaching English for Medical PurposesTeaching English for Medical Purposes (EMP) to a class of trained or student doctors can be a daunting prospect. They have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the human body, whereas most of us who teach business English for Medicine probably don’t. And that gap between our knowledge and theirs can lead to a bit of self-doubt as we prepare to step into the classroom.

In my experience, there are two things to remember in situations such as this. Continue reading


What was the question?

Female doctor with patient in backgroundIn this article and video, Sam McCarter, author of Medicine 1 and 2, considers the importance of clinical communication skills.

When doctors or nurses are non-native speakers of English, which basic skills do they need for effective communication with their English-speaking patients?

A basic skill for medical personnel, which is often not completely mastered, is asking questions.

A skilful doctor can balance closed questions (‘Does the pain spread anywhere else?’) with open questions (‘Can you tell me a little more about the pain?’) and then cope with a large amount of information in the answer. A doctor who cannot do this risks losing the patient’s confidence.

Yet the very simplicity of the questions may lead students not to take this language seriously enough. This means such questions are often not mastered, because students focus on the more medical doctor-to-doctor communication.

The same applies to counselling a patient, using a very small bank of words to explain a vast array of medical information, while at the same time being able to talk appropriately to other health professionals.

Cue recognition and response are other essential techniques which students need to learn. A patient may hint at something indirectly through stress:

Patient: ‘I don’t take any prescribed drugs’
Doctor: ‘Do you take any other drugs? Like recreational drugs?’

The ‘cue’ may be in the sound of the voice: the patient sounds hesitant. But it may also be non-verbal.

Continue reading