Ok so it’s been a while since the last Weekly Question blog - forgive us, we’ve been really busy!
Doing your elective placement overseas is an incredible opportunity to experience and learn about different cultures and healthcare systems, but it does come with some challenges. One of the things we’re asked about a lot is language and communication barriers, which is why we provide free weekly language lessons in every destination.
So just how difficult is it to communicate with supervisors, hospital staff, patients and locals? This week we asked students on placement if they have found it to be a problem.
In Spanish speaking Argentina there is obviously a language barrier, however with a little effort and our fantastic Intensive Spanish Course many students haven’t found it as tricky as they thought it might be.
“If you try to communicate then there is no barrier or difficulty. I think any language barrier is self-imposed. The language lessons let you build your confidence, but practice helps you improve.” - Aurore Van Hoof
“Yes, there's a language barrier, but local medical students know English and doctors are really patient and willing to teach you. The Spanish lessons allow you to go over everything you are not sure about.” - Nichola Coleman
In Tanzania, Swahili is the first language of the majority of the population but Alix Arbuckle and Richard Bowman who both undertook placements ther said:
“There is a language barrier with most of the patients but the nurses and doctors are good at translating and that is a very important part. The lessons are great and help to make you feel more confident when speaking in the hospital with Nurses and Doctors.”
“The lessons are very useful and included in the price of the placement. Zero barriers when talking to doctors and nurses and all medical records in English. The staff help to translate as well.”
Students on placement in Dar es Salaam commented:
“On placement all the doctors speak English and part of ward rounds & meetings are in English. However interactions with patients are in Swahili. The doctors attempt to explain things for us though. Language lessons are very useful even greetings & thanking patients in Swahili is really appreciated.” - Jamie-Anne Gilmour
“In regard to communication with the doctors and the nurses there are no problems at all as most speak English. In regard to patients most of the time the doctors fill me in about what the patient is saying. I find the weekly Swahili lesson very useful it helps me communicating with patients as well as local people in Dar and thus makes life much easier. The teacher at the house is very good and enthusiastic.” - Abdulaziz Albahri
Nur Nabila Binti Abd Rahim says: “There are language barriers but I don't think it is a problem as the doctors translate most things to me and I try to practice Swahili with patients.”
In Nepal, students are getting to grips with their Nepali:
“The classes are useful but there is so much to learn!” - Sarah Peters
“It is not so difficult. There is not as such a barrier but the language classes are useful. It’s useful in hospital. Even if you know little bit it helps a lot. It’s really useful for the Village Experience too. I try my best to use Nepali language as much as possible.” - Hannah Astle
It seems that making a conscious effort to learn just some simple words and phrases really goes a long way towards building relationships in the hospital and in the local community. So the more you can communicate (or show you’re willing to give it a go) the more patient interaction and rewarding experience you will have!
Read more about our elective placements abroad.