Careering Ahead

“My language skills should have been tested”

The GMC wants to get tough on all these doctors with funny accents (and fashionable clothing). It is calling for a change in the law to enable it to test the language skills and competency of European doctors.

I should feel hurt about it, after all I am a Spanish doctor who moved to Britain straight after medical school and worked in the UK for over 16 years. But, I tell you what, I don’t feel hurt at all. In fact, I have always been intrigued as to why my language skills were never tested. Even more intriguing is the fact that colleagues from India or Pakistan, who use English in medical school, do have to undergo these tests. Unlike us Europeans, their English skills have already been tested, ours haven’t.

Communication is the most basic principle to good medicine so if you don’t speak the local language perfectly, you can have the best medical degree ever but you will still be a terrible doctor. It is a shame that political correctness and European laws are failing to grasp such a simple fact.

When I started as a house officer, my English was reasonable, good for holidays, shopping, interviews and friendly chats but not good enough to understand what went on during a ward round, the abbreviations, medical terms, complicated expressions and accents. I was lucky at the time to have a brilliant team who saved me and my patients from huge mischief. Hopefully I didn’t kill anybody but I was given plenty of chances!

And, don’t remind me of telephone conversations. Losing the body language and the context of the issue was a total nightmare. I used to say: “Sorry, where are you calling me from in the hospital?” I’d then put the phone down and physically run to the spot. The price was losing seven kilos in weight in six months and never having enough time to even go to the loo. Passing concentrated pee should have been part of the job description for any European junior doctor at the time.

“Don’t worry, we will look after you,” said my very first consultant when I mentioned to him during the interview that I had never worked as a doctor and that I had never worked in English before. I was on call on my very first day (well looked after indeed).

The trouble is many English people haven’t realised that there is intelligent life outside planet Britain and they speak a different language. Surprise, surprise, a doctor who doesn’t speak English will struggle.

It is not just Britain which is being affected by all this European silliness. Here in Spain, we are importing lots of eastern European doctors whose Spanish is simply not there at all. It is becoming a common scenario to provide these doctors with translator to work alongside them.

You tell me, but I don’t think it can get any more stupid than that.

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3 Responses to ““My language skills should have been tested””

  1. Isabel says:

    Excellent article, Monica. As a Spanish doctor having worked in London for nine years, I feel totally identified with your account. What a nightmare language can be …! In Spain, some of us are trying to make things easier for others via ” for doctors by doctors” medical English courses and publications. Anybody willing to benefit or contribute is welcome at

  2. Robert S. says:

    It is ridiculous that we perceive the Eastern European doctors to be the bad guys in all this, rather than the stifling EU bureaucracy that is really the root cause.

    Do we not have any jurisdiction over our own medical profession anymore?

  3. Malcolm Morrison says:

    The short answer to “Robert S” is “NO”!
    It should have been one of the conditions of joining the EU that everyone had to speak Esperanto!

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