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A Doctor’s Visit - Part 1 “Be Prepared”

How can I talk to the doctor in English? What if I don’t understand? What if I miss something important? What if I freeze and can’t find the words I need?

All of these things happen when you are using a foreign language. If you prepare before you go to do something important, you will feel more confident, communicate better, and have a more successful interaction.

The Doctor’s Office

Step 1 - Be Prepared…know the questions the doctor is likely to ask and have the answers ready

The doctor will probably greet you “Hi, How are you? etc.”

The doctor will ask about your problem/condition…the reason you are visiting the office. The doctor might say:

“What’s the problem?

“What seems to be the problem?”

Or the doctor might already know from the chart or phone call

Today the condition will be A Cough After the doctor greets you, the doctor will ask about how long and when it started and if this is something that happens frequently.

These are some examples of common questions

“When did the cough start?”

“How long have you had a cough?”

○ “Do you get a lot of coughs?”

○ “How often do you get coughs?”

● If the doctor talks fast, don’t worry - you are prepared. You know what information they need so you should not freeze up. Even if your answer isn’t what the doctor asked, it is still important information that the doctor will need.

The next question might be details about the condition, today it’s a cough:

“Is the cough stronger in the morning or at night?”

○ “Is the cough wet or dry?”

○ “Does it hurt to swallow?”

Even if you don’t understand all of the questions, you probably know what details are important to tell the doctor. If it hurts to swallow and you don’t know how to say that or understand clearly you, need to look it up and prepare before your visit.

Step 2 - Role Play…Practice your conversation a few times

● You can practice with a friend and try to use some medical vocabulary and medical collocations from a chapter in your book or any study materials you are using. Have your friend ask you some sample questions from this list and you can try to answer without reading anything. Practice the whole visit in your role play, talking to the doctor, the receptionist, active listening, the important information you prepared, ask for clarification and ask follow up questions. The more you practice the better you will feel about the situation. Confidence is extremely important in learning a foreign language.

● See “Doctor Visit Part 2” for a role play example

Step 3 - Active Listening….Listen and try to understand and if the doctor pauses you can say “Ok” or “got it” if you understand.

● This helps you tell the doctor that you understand and it can help you control conversation speed and keep a focus on what’s most important to you. An important part of active listening is telling the speaker (in this case the doctor) what you DO NOT understand. NEVER be embarrassed to say you don’t understand or ask someone to repeat or slow down.

Step 4 - Ask for Clarification…it always helps a lot to repeat the instructions back to someone and see if they tell you that you are correct. This is a great way to check your understanding.

● The doctor might say: “You need to take medicine twice a day for 10 days. Take it once in the morning and once at night.”

● They might also give special instructions such as take with food, or take on an empty stomach-(no food).

You can ask for clarification:

  1. “so you’re saying take it once in the morning and once at night?”

  2. “Are you saying to take it with food?”

Step 5 - Ask Follow Up Questions...You can always ask follow up questions even after you understand. Some common questions can be what to do if it gets worse about medicine are about side effects and what to do if you miss a dose:

● “What should I do if I get worse?”

● “Does the medicine have any side effects?”

● “What do I do if I miss a dose?”

Practice reading and repeating out-loud the phrases and vocabulary in these steps to build your confidence and competence.

Then grab a friend and practice with A Doctor’s Visit Part 2 - “Role Play”!

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