An Online Journal of Modern Philology ISSN 1214-5505

English for Doctors


Miroslav Černý


The purpose of the present paper is to review one important contribution to the training of doctor-patient communication skills. It also discusses its possible advantages and disadvantages as a suitable source for linguists interested in the analysis of medical encounters.

1 Introduction

"For most doctors whose first language is not English communication with colleagues at international conferences or when working abroad does not pose a great problem, as the medical language used is fairly universal. However, when faced English-speaking patients in the consulting room different vocabulary is required."[1]

2 Review

In my opinion, these two sentences distinctly express the motivation Mária Györffy had for collecting authentic materials recorded in consulting rooms all over Great Britain and the United States. Her aim was to help doctors and medical students who wish to work in English speaking countries,[2] and thanks to her elaboration they may now enjoy a book which helps in developing communicative skills between physicians and their patients.

Doctor-patient interaction is an important process, especially in those cases where the diagnosis and following treatment are based mostly on the information acquired from such interaction. Moreover, if we take into consideration those examples of patient experiences issued in The American Academy on Physician and Patient[3] the relationship between a doctor and a person who relies on him/her sometimes emerges as a question of death or life.

Although getting acquainted with the process of this kind of interaction can become very problematic due to its difficulty, it is necessary to master at least the basic rules which play part in doctor-patient communication. If we follow A National Curriculum For Medical Students[4] in the United States, we may see that more and more medical schools, universities and other health institutions have realized the importance of understanding the process when physicians are interviewing their patients. Mária Györffy's English for Doctors contributes to such understanding.

It is not only a collection of recordings, but rather a textbook accompanied by a large number of various exercises. The book is divided into 13 units, each of them based on a different medical speciality: Internal Medicine, Medications, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Paediatrics, Urology, Ear, Nose, Throat, Orthopaedics, Surgery, Dermatology, Genitourinary Infections, Ophthalmology, Neurology and Dentistry. All these branches deal with topics such as history-taking, physical examination, treatment, patients' complaints and doctors' advices.

The topics mentioned above are introduced through dialogues available either in British or American English, sometimes in both. This fact is quite important since the two varieties of the English language often use different medical terminology. It also helps students whose native tongue is other than English in mastering both pronunciations. Pronunciation Guide to Medical Terminology is included for the same reason.

As for the exercises, they always consist of three parts. First of all, there is a pre-listening activity which may be checked after listening. Then the main dialogue of the unit follows. Finally, a section on doctor's role is provided. These exercises are especially aimed at checking the listener's comprehension and studying new expressions and useful phrases. Other language skills (e.g. writing doctor's referral) are also developed. Possible mistakes can be corrected after consulting Answer Key at the end of the book.

What is important to stress is the fact that not only medical students and doctors but linguists as well may profit from this interesting book. The large corpus of about one hundred tapescripts of D-P dialogues, which is accompanied by four cassettes, forms a great source for anglicists interested in the introduced field of study. Their analyses may bring a deeper insight into the flow of language used between doctors and patients, and, as a result, a revised version of this book could be created.

There are many features of D-P communication we may examine as linguists. For example, it would be very interesting to study the role of questions and answers in D-P interaction. Other features we could focus on are, for instance, lexical and grammatical choice, turn design, social relations, sequence and structural organizations. Moreover, the structure of the corpus offers to compare the British English and American English versions of the same dialogues. Another comparison could be aimed at different medical specialities, etc.

Unfortunately, it must be added that the corpus under consideration has also its limits. In the first place, it is necessary to mention the incompleteness of some dialogues. Therefore those linguists who would like to study, for example, the structural organization of doctor-patient dialogues in detail will probably miss certain phases of the medical encounter (e.g. relating to the patient, terminating).

Secondly, as it was already indicated above, the dialogues are not transcribed; there are only tapescripts available. However, any experienced anglicist may listen to the tapes, and produce the transcription himself.

Finally, Mária Györffy did not include enough information about the participants whose interviews she had recorded. We usually do not know of which sex and age they are. We also lack details about their social status. Although it is possible to gather a lot of information from the recordings, these relevant factors could have been provided as they form important backgrounds for any sociolinguistic analysis.[5]

3 Conclusion

To summarize my points, I should stress that Mária Györffy prepared a very useful book. Even though there are some problematic points, e.g. the incompleteness of some dialogues and the lack of transcription and deeper information on sociolinguistic factors, the positives of the text prevail. In my opinion, both Czech students and teachers of medicine, who suffer from the absence of textbooks on medical interviews,[6] will certainly benefit from this complex educational material. Linguists-anglicists may, above all, enjoy the opportunity for a comparative analysis of doctor-patient interviews in different medical branches.

4 Notes

[1] Györffy, 2001, Introduction.

[2] For another source with the same motivation, see Parkinson (2004).

[3] Available online:<http://www.physicianpatient.or/exp_001.html>, cited 11. 3. 2004.

[4] Available online:<>, cited 11. 3. 2004.

[5] For details, see, for example, Holmes (1998).

[6] For another useful material, see P?ívratská (2002).

5 References

Holmes, J. (1998). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (London and New York: Longman Group Ltd.).

Györffy, M. (2001). English for Doctors (Havlíčkův Brod: Triton).

Parkinson, J. (2004). Angličtina pro lékaře. Manuál pro praxi [A Manual of English for the Overseas Doctor] (Praha: Grada).

Přívratská, J. (2002). English in the Medical Profession (Praha: Karolinum).

[Viewed on 2017-06-26] is published by
Albis - Giorgio Cadorini
(From 2004 to 2016 the journal was published by
The Vilém Mathesius Society,
Opava, Czech Republic)
Copyright © 2003-2017,