English Medical College in Italy

A Universal Standard in Medical English

In Great Britain, nearly one third of medical doctors are non-native English speakers, and approximately one fourth of that number are from the EU. These foreign professionals are an integral part of the National Health Service’s functionality, but their lack of communication skills in the English particular to the medical field is causing serious problems. The UK’s General Medical Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council have raised concerns to the European Union, calling for urgent action to combat this problem.

The problem is not confined to the United Kingdom. The increase of work mobility throughout Europe has necessitated the use of an international language for communication among medical personnel, and in turn their communication with patients.

Standard testing and competency systems, notably the Cambridge ESOL examinations and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, already exist and are used and trusted throughout the EFL world, however, these exams have not proved to be sufficient to test competency in medical English. Even those healthcare professionals who must undergo rigourous English exams before entering employment in their fields may not know the vocabulary and usage particular to the world of medicine, which is particularly important as lives and human suffering can be greatly affected by it.

A Solution

The sTANDEM team

Enter: sTANDEM—Standardised Language Examinations for Medical Purposes. This project of the EU Lifelong Learning Programme was begun in 2011 and is scheduled to be finished in 2014. The purpose of sTANDEM is to create a language examination to be used as a standard of measurement for medical English competency throughout Europe, and perhaps eventually elsewhere.

In the future, the project will extend to include lingua franca tests for medical workers in specific countries. So far these plans include German, French, Polish, Hungarian, and Romanian.

The European Association of Science Editors, one of the project’s core partners, describes it as follows:

“This system is intended to promote, assess, and certify the command of professional English among health care professionals world-wide. It will enable hospitals, and other health institutions where English is the language of communication, who plan to employ staff, research fellows, or externs whose first language is not English, to obtain sound information about their English language proficiency in a professional context. EASE endorses both standardisation of scientific (including medical) terminology and the use of clear language by all authors of scientific publications in English.”

The finished project is planned to include tests for lower intermediate to upper intermediate levels, known as B1 – C1 in the Common European Framework, and equivalent to the FCE – CAE levels of the Cambridge ESOL examinations.

The Project Consortium

The project consortium is made up of 10 Core Partner Institutions, 14 Supporting Partners, and 8 Associated Partners.

The team with members of Elanguest staff and the Maltese press

Core Partners are Jagiellonian University Medical College from Poland; Innsbruck Medical University from Austria; Dijon School of Medicine from France; University of Pecs, Faculty of General Medicine from Hungary; University of Medicine and Pharmacy of Targu Mures in Romania; University of Edinburgh from the UK; Tokyo Medical University, Department of International Medical Communications in Japan; The European Association of Science Editors from the UK; The European Association for Communication in Healthcare from the Netherlands; and Elanguest English Language School from Malta.

Supporting Partners include prestigious medical institutions from around the world, including the Centers for Disease Control, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Mayo Clinic from the United States; Primal Pictures and Myeloma from the UK; Emergency Medicine Cases from Canada; Virtual Medical Centre from Australia; and the international World Health Organisation. The role of these supporting partners is to provide access to otherwise copyrighted authentic medical texts and audio recordings from their publications. Obviously, the texts will not be compromised, as examination materials will not be made public.

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