Inspirational ELT #4 | Ros's story

English teaching is a profession with many interesting niches that you may not know about. In this post, I want to introduce you to Ros Wright, an English teacher and materials writer who specialises in Medical English – maybe she’ll inspire you to consider this, too!
Jo Gakonga

Ros' story- the many faces of ELT

Like many ESP trainers, I ‘fell into’ the field that eventually became my speciality – medical English. It was 1998; Kaplan Paris was my training ground, the Bates Guide to Physical Examination and History Taking my ‘bible’ and a group of unsuspecting international doctors hoping to make that all important career move to the US, my guinea pigs. Armed with only a lay person’s understanding of medicine, I’m now quite surprised looking back at how undaunted I had been by the task at hand.

What I quickly came to understand, however, was that teaching clinical communications skills was not about having an in-depth knowledge of medical conditions and treatment procedures, it was about what we in ELT now refer to as ‘soft skills’, albeit with more far-reaching implications. It was about understanding the patient-centred approach to care (considering the patient as a whole as opposed to a set of symptoms to be cured) and focusing on developing skills to convey that approach. So, in clinical communications training, we teach language and delivery skills (intonation, word stress, etc.) that develop trust and show respect, obtain the patient’s perspective, convey active listening skills, demonstrate empathy and provide reassurance. We train healthcare professionals to carry out effective patient consultations, break bad news, negotiate treatment, and explain medical procedures.

Since that initial foray, I have gained an MA in ELT Materials Development specialising in medical English and authored several titles in this field. In 2008 my first coursebook Good Practice: Communication Skills in English for the Medical Practitioner was shortlisted for a British Council ELTon and then won the inaugural BESIG-David Riley Award for Innovation in ESP. However, most importantly for me, the course earned the endorsement of Dr Jonathan Silverman, world-renowned expert in clinical communications.

My most recent coursebook launched in August 2020 is OET Skills Builder Speaking and Writing. For anyone interested in working in this field, I would strongly advise training to prepare candidates for the Occupational English Test (OET) as this is where the main target audience now lies. OET tests all four skills and assesses language proficiency in 12 different healthcare professions, from doctors and nurses to podiatrists, speech therapists, and vets (yes really!). In the speaking and listening papers in particular there is a clear focus on the patient-centred approach and of course effective clinical communication skills.

While my passion is writing, today I’ve come almost full circle. My bread and butter consists of preparing overseas doctors to work in the UK’s healthcare system. I’m contracted by a medical recruitment agency in London to work with clinicians predominantly from India and Pakistan, but also Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, from the recently qualified to specialist consultants in their 50s, all making their own important career move to the UK. During the course, we cover the kinds of areas highlighted earlier, as well as develop strategies to better understand colloquial language and dialect, bridging the gap between the doctor’s clinical know-how and the realities of a busy A&E in the UK.

More than 20 years later, I am proud to say that while I’m still not able to accurately diagnose appendicitis or even heartburn, I am in the privileged position of assisting overseas doctors achieve their professional goals and in turn contributing towards safe and effective patient care in the UK.

For anyone interested in working as a medical English trainer, my website English for may offer some useful resources, otherwise, I’m happy to provide advice in this field.

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