While the COVID-19 crisis continues, we at SLB are endeavouring to substitute cancelled classes for other paid work for our freelance members and associates. Here, Mariam Panosetti contributes a blogpost about a unique experiment in English for medical workers: a weekly ‘live’ task in which staff from the palliative care unit at the ICO (Institut Catalán d’Oncologia, or Catalan Oncology Institute) conduct a pain management meeting in English. Our thoughts are with our friends at ICO and other medical workers across Spain at this difficult time.
English for medical workers: a pain management meeting at ICO
The class format with this group is very different from typical classes—even classes of English for medical workers—given the setting and the nature of the work. Participants are doctors or medical staff across different disciplines working in the palliative care section of the hospital and specialising in pain management for patients with in a very serious or difficult condition. As such, there can be a different number of participants in each class, usually ranging anywhere from 6 to 14 people. There may be occasional interruptions with participants having to step out early or arrive late to the session.
The class takes place during a Monday morning group meeting where participants discuss either new patients who have been admitted, or any patients with open issues or recurring problems. All participants are expected to speak in English and I listen to each case presented taking notes in order to provide them with feedback and corrections at the end of the session. Occasionally, they may ask for help with difficult vocabulary or when struggling to formulate an idea.
Once they have finished discussing the patients, I provide them with feedback and corrections both verbally and in writing. They like to see the corrections written up on screen as it helps them assimilate them better. We use a Google drive spreadsheet containing several tabs:
- Glossary – containing specific vocabulary including but not limited to medical terms.
- Pronunciation – a running list of words / sounds they have difficulty pronouncing.
- Correction – this is the section where the errors in speaking are recorded (first column) along with their corrections in the second column.
- Key words – this section has vocabulary and grammar that they use recurrently to talk about patients and different cases.
- Useful links – this contains web links to useful sites to help with vocabulary and information specific to the medical sector and oncology.
- Phrasal verbs – most recently created tab at their request to start a running list of phrasal verbs.
One of the doctors recently requested that we do phrasal verbs. He suggested looking at five new phrasal verbs at the end of each session, as he would like to use them more when he speaks. I thought this was an excellent idea, which is why I started a tab for them. The main purpose of these sessions is to help them feel more comfortable discussing patient cases in English and increase their fluency so that they are more at ease presenting at international congresses. Overall, they have found the sessions very helpful.
Prior to joining this group of medical professionals, I had worked with oncology specialists in the pharmaceutical industry, helping them improve their fluency when presenting at medical congresses. This experience prepared me well for my work with the group at ICO, as the group’s needs were quite similar. Most corrections focused on using the right verb tense in the right context: often the present perfect was used incorrectly (instead of the past simple), and the present used instead of the present perfect. Working on prepositions that follow specific verbs was also important (for example, diagnosed with, admitted to, treated with and so on). Last but not least, helping them see how the ideas they are trying to express can be expressed much more clearly and concisely, using fewer words, is very important, particularly in their field.
My previous experience working at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Switzerland on quality of life assessment instruments for patients in palliative care meant that I was used to delivering English for medical workers, and used to hearing about difficult patient cases. Even though at times some of the cases discussed during their meeting would bring tears to my eyes, it is a great honour to be a part of the meeting and help this group of wonderful professionals improve their English language skills. Each patient is discussed with a lot of empathy and humanity, and all the medical professionals in the group are very open to answering any questions to help me understand particular medical situations. Many of them also have a positive spirit and sense of humour, which is very important when working in such challenging conditions. It makes some of the day-to-day hardships more bearable.
SLB also conduct task-based classes with nurses and secretarial staff in the palliative care unit at ICO, and assist with preparing medical papers for journals, and presentations or posters for conferences. We hope to be back working at ICO as soon as possible.