Medical English for Health Professionals +

Medical English is the specialized vocabulary used by healthcare professionals. It also discusses the communication techniques they need for effective work relationships.   

Communication techniques & resources for health professionals, with a picture of doctors+, & “How to ask questions… report observations… & give clear instructions… to clients & families.”

Medical terminology is not enough.

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other professionals also need to know how to communicate clearly with patients and coworkers. 

Good English communication skills are essential. Completely understanding patients can help you recognize problems and make diagnoses.

Taking care that patients and coworkers understand your messages can help avoid dangerous errors. Medical care really is a team effort!

If English is not your native language, the pages below may help you review basic communication in English: 

  • how to ask questions and elicit information from your patients/clients,
  •  how to report observations and actions to coworkers, and 
  • how to give clear instructions or explanations to clients and their families (and to coworkers).

For basic medical terminology, see Medical Vocabulary. It discusses common disease, exam, medication, and treatment vocabulary, 

Find the sections on the page quickly with the links below.

See Clear Communication for Health Professionals for help with

  • forming questions, 
  • reporting patient information, and 
  • giving advice or instructions. 

Then check out Other Medical English Resources, and Where to Start.

Clear Communication for Health Professionals

Review Asking Questions & Giving Advice in English

  • Question Formation shows the different ways to ask questions in English, using examples from health care settings.

The practice page also has a gap-fill exercise. It's 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. It's hands-on practice giving advice.

Review Sentence Structure & Writing in English

For a quick review before writing a report or article, see English Sentence StructureNegative SentencesCompound SentencesComplex Sentences, and/or Transition Words give more specifics.  

Patient Communication in Difficult Situations

The Anderson Cancer Center has very helpful videos showing compassionate communication with patients. Especially useful ones show how to give families bad news and deal with anger. 

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're clear examples of best communication practices. They also explain the reasons different techniques work well (or don’t.)

Their English is easy to understand. Anyone with Intermediate or higher English skills will likely understand almost everything.

I especially recommend

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

Other Medical English Resources

There are lots of resources online, including medical dictionaries and some medical terminology. 

  • Englishmed has thousands of animated dialogues and practice exercises. They're for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and general med staff.
  • English Health Train is a wonderful resource for English classes for health professionals. They have a complete, communicative curriculum. I've taught some of it and recommend it highly. I love their well-integrated reading, listening, and speaking activities. They also have ideas for research projects. 

It's designed to teach medical English communication in a class setting, where you can interact with others and a teacher can guide you. If that's not possible, 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. You could practice speaking and do many of the projects if you can work with a friend.

The listening exercises are especially useful. Listen to different English accents and expressions that patients or other health workers might use. Then think about how you would respond.

  • Medical English Clear and Simple is an excellent book to review medical vocabulary and communication. It integrates reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It can be used as a classroom text or for individual study. Try Amazon.com or another online bookstore. 
  • Try watching TED or TEDMED* talks to improve your English listening comprehension and vocabulary. They're full of useful or inspiring ideas. 

(Many of the TED talks are also translated into several languages. They also have written transcripts. You might watch in your first language for the main idea, and then watch and/or read in English. *There are more TEDMed talks than the few visible on that page. Click the white arrow on the right of each talk shown.)

Lots of their talks are about the practice of medicine. They raise good questions to think about while working on your English. You might start with this list of some TED popular talks by doctors.

Where to Start

There are several good free medical dictionaries online. They're useful if you need the meaning of a specific word, or want to know more about a specific medical procedure.

See Medical Vocabulary for an overview of English health care terms. If you work directly with patients, review Using Helping Verbs to Give Advice and Practice Giving Advice.

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