English Language Proficiency Needed Among Foreign-Born Physicians

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday examined efforts to help foreign-born doctors practicing in North Texas with English-language proficiency to avoid unintended errors in patient communication. Nearly 25% of the 45,500 licensed physicians practicing in Texas received their medical degree from a foreign nation and likely speak English as a second language, according to data from the Texas Medical Board. In 2007, the state medical board handled physicians trained in 83 different foreign nations.

About 30%, or 1,032, of the physicians licensed in Texas last year received their medical education at a foreign school, and because the state is facing a physician shortage an effort has been made to attract more foreign physicians to the area, according the Morning News.

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Karen Yates started her business, G.E.T. English Training, two years ago to provide accent-reduction sessions. Yates, a language specialist, and her staff record 45 minutes of a physician's speech patterns and then analyze it to find mispronunciations. For example, fifteen milligrams sounds very similar to 50 milligrams, and breathing and bleeding sound similar. Yates said that "if the doctor speaks too quickly, without American English pausing and rhythm, the patients may nod as if they understand but they may not know the specifics of what was said." Sixty-five students are expected to graduate this year from Yates' classes, which cost $113 an hour, or $1,465 for 13 weeks of sessions.

The North Texas health system, Texas Health Resources, also offers staff members an "accent modification program," the Morning News reports. According to Mina Kini, who runs the system's language programs, the effort does not aim "to make everyone sound like robots" but rather to focus on the sounds that could most affect communication (Roberson, Dallas Morning News, 11/12).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Weekly Health Disparities Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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