When reading and writing medical and nursing texts, Health Care Professionals require an understanding of medical and hospital terminology in the first instance. As well as this, Health Care Professionals need to be able to write fluently in patient notes, in referral letters and when completing care plans or care pathways. Finally, they need to be able to communicate information in writing about patient status and changes in patient condition.
Most course books for doctors or nurses concentrate on improving verbal and listening skills and often only touch on writing skills which are needed in the workplace. This is usually because the books are written from an ELT perspective which scorns the teaching of ‘content’. Of course, I’m not suggesting that English for nurses or doctors aims to equip students to pass a medical or nursing degree, however, I believe there is a need to help establish a glossary of hospital terms so that the workplace is less daunting when they finally make it!
The kind of writing which doctors and nurses undertake at work is different from the academic writing of essays which practitioners would have been familiar with as undergraduates. Much of the writing is formulaic. In the case of nurses; nurses complete care plans and care pathways which have a limited amount of prose writing and have a greater amount of tick boxing and short phrase writing instead. They read short phrases about patient care, for example ‘ Pt mobilising with/without mobility aid’ and initial when the milestone is achieved.
This is not to say that there is no writing of complete sentences and/or paragraphs. Variances in the patient’s ability to reach a goal or milestone is documented in the care pathway with an explanation. Referral letters to outside agencies for after care e.g after discharge home are written as mini reports.
There is an increasing need for nursing and medical graduates to publish papers and present at conferences so correct spelling especially of medical terms is essential. Medical or hospital language can be divided into:
· medical terminology
· medical and nursing jargon - used between colleagues
· everyday health terms – used in discussions with patients
· terms relating to equipment or procedures – collocations often used with these
By exploring groups of ‘headwords’ in medicine, larger glossaries can be developed which help students learn the immense corpora of medical terms they need to know to function at high levels of language. There are many compound words in Medicine particularly relating to new discoveries e.g stem cell research. By adding to a solid base of headwords, students gradually become aware of terms which ‘go together’. This is a mark of fluency and helps with comprehensibility. It also helps to reduce the number of completely new terms which need to be learned.