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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Is English Important To Medicine?

Language has always been a big issue in India, and more so in Maharashtra and Bombay or Mumbai depending on which side of politics you're on. That it was a big issue in the field of medicine has only just started to receive prominence.I've been meaning to write about this for a long while now, but haven't got that push required. I think this week's post graduate examinations were just what I needed.


A twitter friend of mine is an examiner for Medical Students. The Consultant I work with is also an examiner for DNB (Diplomate of National Board) students. Both these intelligent and hard working doctors give up their precious time and practice to examine students in their viva-voce exams and decide whether they are fit to practice medicine. I always wondered how an examiner felt when coming across thousands of students, some of whom excel at medicine and some who are just about there with medicine but speak English fluently.


I would think that holding a command over the language would give the student an immense advantage over his counterpart who would falter in grammar, no matter where he stood on the knowledge scale of medicine. This comes from personal experience as well. I don't think I was even half as good as other students appearing for their examinations with me, but I could speak English well (almost better than half the teacher's taking my exam) and that gave me an upper hand. 

From a patient point of view, the whole thing takes a rather wierd turn. Some people would prefer talking in their native tongue to their doctor and some would cringe if a doctor didn't know how to speak English well. 

My view on this is that if the books are written in English and the syllabus is taught in English and the exams are conducted in English, the students must, simply must have a working knowledge of the language. That being said, would it be too bad an idea to have a compulsory cut off for English along with the Sciences that we need after college? Should English as a language be a subject along with Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry?

I think it should. Please let me know what you think....

5 comments:

  1. Interesting take on the matter.

    Even though I'm much lower than you in the food chain right now, I would say that I too have had that "advantage" of being more proficient in English during lectures and exam. I agree that since all teaching is in English, there should be some sort of a mandatory pre-requisite of hold over the language.

    But equally important is the knowledge of the native tongue where you are learning/practicing medicine. This, I realized in my third semester of med school when most of my so called 'less proficient' in English batch mates established a better rapport with the patient, while I was left trying to think of translation of "when" to Marwari!

    There needs to be a fine balance of the two in education. (Would not comment on practice at this point of time, since I have no idea what its like :D)

    PS: But I also think that its highly unprofessional on the part of an examiner to judge a candidate on his English rather than medical knowledge! (Its a medical exam- not TOEFL!)

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  2. Arpita...I totally agree. Local Language is a boon in medical college, especially in our country where we have so many dialects.
    In private practice though, its a whole new ballgame. Even those who know but a little English are more impressed with a Doctor speaking clearly and well. The bias is there based on language and not medical skill at the first impression. (Personal experience)

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  3. I agree with you Dheeraj, that English should be taught along with all the other med subjects....and speaking and understanding the native language would be an added bonus....think this holds true for all fields of work in India:)

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  4. It is definitely a major problem in medical education. Hindi medium students do find it difficult to adjust initially. Especially those coming from a rural background.
    If the student's command over the language is not good, his comprehension of the subject also goes down. It is a natural consequence.
    Of course it is not a TOEFL / IELTS exam, but language helps you to express what you know and if you can express better, the examiner is more sure that you know the subject.
    Medical colleges should probably have an optional English course for first and second year students who come from vernacular medium of education. (And please!! Do not mark them on that - the medical curriculum is stressful enough in itself).

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  5. Very positive, as the scientific names are base sometimes, from English word.

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