To the Editor:
Medical graduates in countries where English is not the first language have often studied English for years. But many lack training in medical and scientific English, which makes it difficult for them to fully understand the medical literature as they conduct independent scientific research and poses a great obstacle to contributing to medical research internationally. To improve this situation, courses in medical and scientific English are urgently needed.
We believe that new courses should be set up using a needs-analysis approach and should be student-centered. Teachers can first compile a representative list of published articles that reflect the features of medical and scientific English publications; the example articles should not be more than moderately difficult to understand. In conducting the course, teachers should assign readings before the class begins; when the class meets, students can report their understanding of the assigned articles and discuss problems they encountered. In this approach, teachers would act more like organizers than lecturers and would help students identify their problems through practice and by giving necessary suggestions.
Our university has taken first steps toward helping students learn medical and scientific English by setting up a course to introduce the characteristics of medical and scientific English, explain the various scientific writing styles, and help students improve their reading efficiency. To promote this program, however, we have had to overcome obstacles. In our country, like some others, teachers who have a good command of medical and scientific English and an educational background in medicine are in short supply,1 and the growing number of medical school graduates makes the situation worse. In addition, the new graduates have various educational backgrounds, experiences, and levels of English proficiency, making it difficult to set up consistent teaching objectives and standards.
Although it is a tall order, many more courses in medical and scientific English must be developed around the world, since they could enable medical graduates to read with understanding the medical literature published in English and, thus, perform meaningful scientific research whose findings could be published in international journals.
Min Chen, MA
Assistant professor, Medical English Department, College of Basic Medical Sciences, Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China.
Xiaoqing Zhan, MA
Teaching assistant, Medical English Department, College of Basic Medical Sciences, Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China.
Rongxia Liao, MD, PhD
Associate professor, Medical English Department, College of Basic Medical Sciences, Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China; firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Cargill M, O’Connor P, Li YY. Educating Chinese scientists to write for international journals: Addressing the divide between science and technology education and English language teaching. Engl Specific Purposes. 2011;31:60–69