A doctor’s accent

There are some courses that address this topic for foreign physicians:

Although foreign-born physicians may have excellent medical training and comprehension of English, patients and co-workers can struggle to understand their speech and are often reluctant to call attention to the problem. For example, the numbers 15 and 50 can sound similar in some accents, as can the words “breathing” and “bleeding.” This increases the potential for medical errors, Wilner says.

“People are frustrated when they get in this situation,” she says. “Others, especially elderly patients, may be intimidated and not want to ask questions.”

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  • emmy

    My first OB was from India and I couldn’t understand a word she said. My Onc’s partner is also from India but has excellent diction. I still avoid him and I feel rather ashamed of it, but it was such a bad relationship with my OB. I never knew what I needed to do.

  • Anonymous

    I have met and worked with several physcians who were very hard to understand. All were native speakers of English, US citizens by birth. One was from West Texas, one was from East Texas, one was from rural Georgia and one was from the Bronx.

    It’s not just people from Asia who have accents that make effective communication impossible.

  • ipanema

    How true Anon 12.38, and if I may add to that, I’ve worked with different native English speakers from Europe, Australia and New Zealand and it’s colourful English accents around you. I think it will take sometime to be accustomed to the different Englishes we hear around us. We just have to be tolerant.

    In a hospital setting, the best that one can do is to let the doctor repeat or clarify what he meant. If one can’t really understand, ask for another one. :)

  • John J. Coupal

    The physician who can’t be understood – and who takes it as an insult to be asked to clarify – is a menace to a patient.

    It’s no so easy to say: I want another doctor. Many times, the system says: you won’t get another doctor, so learn to live [and die] with this one.

  • Chris, RN

    I work for an HMO that’s like the United Nations. I can’t pronounce the names of many physicians when I book an appointment for a patient. I usually ask the patient how the doctor pronouces their name, they don’t know how to. Just as I have to connect to interpreter services for patients who speak foreign languages so I can understand what they need, I feel turn around is fair play. The patients and staff should have access to interpreters to understand physicians they need to interact with.

  • Anonymous

    Mr Coupal:

    #1. the “system” is designed to treat illness, not keep people happy. That’s a secondary goal. Important, but secondary. Pateints get admitted to hospitals because something is seriously wrong with them. Patients are only “given” doctors if thet don’t have one of their own or they need one who has specialized training in an area there doctor does not.

    You may want another doctor, but chances are you need the one you’ve got.

    Now, given that:

    An accent is an accent. If the patient simply cannot understand one specific doctor (nurse, pharmacist, whoever) then that doctor should either write or, more commonly, bring in a nurse or co-worker to translate “English to English.”

    It’s been my experience that when this is done, the patients still don’t understand and we learn that they simply didn’t want to hear what the doc was saying. Other patients simply don’t want to recieve care from doctors that are a certain color, or from a certain place, and will ask for new doctors. They won’t like the replacement docs either if they are not the same ethnicity as the patient. This changing of doctors to meet the patient’s prejudice is a waste of resources.

    That said, I agree you on one issue:

    ANY doctor who takes it as an insult to clarify himself is a menace to society. The system works best when everyone is on the same page – if that takes a extra minutes to explain a difficult concept (or just repeat yourself, or get someone else to explain what you said) it’s inconvient but essential to do this.

  • ipanema

    John J. Coupal:

    How true. My doctors here are of multirace too. Sometimes, it’s hard to follow, I have to open my ears wide to catch up what he’s saying.

    In all honesty, we can’t really ask to be seen by another doctor for the queue is long. I hope the doctor won’t take offense if the patient needs clarification. :)

  • Anonymous

    I don’t care where you’re from or what color you are. I do care if I can understand what you’re saying to me. I can’t understand folks with heavy Asian/Indian accents. I’ve many times asked for repeated instructions. A few times, I couldn’t understand the repeat. I’ve asked againg. After five or six times of not understanding, you better believe I ask for another provider.

    If I can’t understand the words my doctor is saying it doesn’t matter how brilliant a physician he/she is.

  • Anonymous

    So why did you go that doctor in the first place if you couldn’t understand him, jackass?

  • Gasman

    Sometimes it is the patient who is heavily accented. Some of these folks are nth generation Americans but from places with dialect and accent that is quite a bit different from standard American English. Forget speaking with the folks from the ghetto.

    I speak perfect standard english, just like the guy on the news, so it must be the patient’s that need to be changed.

  • ipanema

    So, what’s it going to be in the US? Asian doctors for Asian patients, Hispanics with each other and native English speaking doctors for native English speaking patients?

    There have been calls to speak English while in America by the Pres.himself. But the problem is just a tip of the iceberg. It’s more on enunciation, not to mention diction. For non-native speakers, this is a big problem. I dread the day everyone will use picture cues and sign language to be understood. :)

    I hope it won’t come to a point where non-English speakers will not be entertained in the hospital.

    Let me share this.

    English, the only language on the menu

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