Medical English for Health Professionals & Others

Medical English is the specialized vocabulary used by health care professionals, as well as the communication techniques they need to work effectively with patients and coworkers.   

a photo of 5 medical professionals

Medical terminology is not enough. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other professionals also need to know how to use English in health care settings. Clear communication is essential to recognizing health problems and making diagnoses, giving proper treatments, and avoiding dangerous errors.

Learn how to ask clear questions and elicit the information needed from your patients/clients, how to report observations and actions to coworkers, and how to give clear instructions, suggestions, or explanations to clients and their families as well as to those you supervise.

For basic medical terminology, including titles of medical professionals and common disease, exam, medication, and treatment vocabulary, see Medical Vocabulary.

On this page, for help with forming questions, reporting patient information, and giving advice or instructions, see Clear Communication for Health Professionals below. Then check out Other Medical English Resources, and Where to Start.

a photo of 5 medical professionals

Clear Communication for Health Professionals

  • Using Helping Verbs to Give Advice and Practice Giving Advice give example of various expressions and techniques for making suggestions. The practice page also has a gapfill exercise based on a conversation between a discharge nurse and a patient who is preparing to leave the hospital. Choose the best helping verbs to complete the conversation and get hands-on practice with giving advice.
  • Question Formation shows the different ways to ask questions in English, also using examples from health care settings.

The Anderson Cancer Center has very helpful videos on clear, compassionate communication with patients. They are especially helpful in difficult situations such as giving patients or their families bad news, or when strong emotions are involved. Their videos are all free and can earn CME (Continuing Medical Education) credits.

I watched almost all the videos myself, and was very impressed. They offer clear examples of best communication practices and explain the reasons different techniques work well (or don’t.) Although designed for professionals, the English is clear and fairly basic—much simpler than a lot English-language information on the web. Anyone with Intermediate or higher English skills will likely understand almost everything.

I especially recommend the basic principles video (under 12 minutes), the 5 SPIKES videos (33 minutes), and “My mother’s not to be told”—2 videos, 12 minutes).

Other Medical English Resources

  • There are a number of resources online, including medical dictionaries and some medical terminology. Englishmed has thousands of animated dialogues for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and general med staff as well as practice exercises.
  • English Health Train is a wonderful resource for English classes for health professionals. They have a complete, communicative curriculum with a variety of well-integrated reading, listening, and speaking activities, as well as ideas for research projects. I used these materials (along with a medical terminology text and other materials) for a class preparing nurses from Mexico to take the NCLEX, and I recommend them very highly.

The program is designed to teach medical English communication in a class setting, where you can interact with others and a teacher can guide you. However, if that's not possible, I believe you could still get great value from studying these materials on your own. You can do all the thinking, listening, reading, and writing activities by yourself, and could practice speaking and do many of the projects if you can work with a friend.

The listening exercises are especially useful, giving practice with different accents and common vocabulary that patients or other health workers might use as well as to think about responses.

  • Medical English Clear and Simple is an excellent book for practicing medical vocabulary along with English communication skills. It also integrates reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It can be used as a classroom text or for individual study. Try or another online bookstore. (List price is over $30 USD, but the Amazon Marketplace has some copies (both new and used) available for much less.)
  • Try watching TED talks (and then reading their transcripts) to improve your English reading and listening comprehension and vocabulary. (If you find them difficult, many are also translated into several other languages, so you might watch in your first language for the main idea, and then in English.) Many of their talks are about the practice of medicine, providing lots to think about while working on your English. You might start with this list of some TED popular talks by doctors.

Where to Start

If you need the meaning of a specific word, or want to know more about a specific medical procedure, there are several good free medical dictionaries online.

For a general overview of health care fields and treatments, start with Medical Vocabulary. If you work directly with patients, review Using Helping Verbs to Give Advice and Practice Giving Advice.

Home> Action Plan for Learning English Online> Medical English for Health Professionals.

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