Teaching Medical English: A Niche Career Opportunity for EFL Instructors

Written by  //  2014/02/26  //  Career Planning  //  1 Comment

The U.S. has a health care worker shortage that is only getting worse. As of 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts America will be short over 130,000 doctors. Additionally, an article in the American Journal of Medical Quality predicts America will have a shortage of over 918,000 RNs by 2030.

High demand for health care professionals will continue as more Americans acquire health insurance and as the U.S. population ages. Encouraging qualified overseas physicians to immigrate to the U.S. is one possible way to ease America’s health care provider shortage.

If Congress follows recommendations from the National Foundation for American Policy and increases available residency slots in U.S. teaching hospitals, then more foreign medical students may start training in the U.S. Thanks to this increase — combined with the potential for more relaxed immigration policies for doctors and nurses — teaching Medical English has become a promising career opportunity. In particular, it presents a great niche career for students who have completed graduate programs in teaching English as a foreign language (click this link to learn more) and who have knowledge about health care. An emerging Medical English curriculum exists to help foreign-born doctors and nurses succeed in the U.S. health care system; hospitals are just looking for the right teachers to train them.

How Teaching Medical English Differs From the Traditional EFL Approach

Medical English starts with health care first and then branches out into traditional English language study. Instead of starting with basic grammar, vocabulary and structure, EFL medical students are trained to learn career-specific medical terminology and slang first, before reviewing English sentence and paragraph construction. Medical English instructors have to acknowledge the goals of individual students, keeping in mind most of these learners are highly intelligent individuals who already have a background of specialized learning. They should be viewed as advanced English learners who need instruction focused on their careers.

Instead of going through lectures, rote drills and grammar exercises, EFL medical students need to learn English in the health care context. Therefore, the typical EFL classroom curriculum may not meet the needs of medical students. Medical work includes a great deal of charting, and doctors rarely record notes in charts or electronic medical records (EMRs) as complete, beautifully constructed sentences. Rather, charts are filled with quick fragments designed to communicate highly technical ideas, which makes perfect grammar and sentence structure less important than speaking and listening.

Finding Medical English Jobs

One concern about Medical English is EFL teachers may not be able to use Medical English in a practical context. This concern has caused some to argue Medical English teachers must be health care practitioners in addition to being EFL instructors. Although this isn’t always feasible, team teaching between a health care provider and a trained EFL instructor can unite the expertise of the EFL teacher with someone who can present Medical English in a health care context.

In addition, health care providers interested in teaching English to foreign-born doctors and nurses may complete graduate EFL degrees to enhance job prospects. Sometimes, health care workers who can’t find other jobs find work as Medical English teachers until they gain employment in their desired field. For medical professionals who no longer want to practice but who still want to contribute to the field, teaching Medical English can be a way to stay active without continuing to see patients.

EFL graduate students can gain exposure to Medical English by teaching abroad or by seeking domestic internships with hospitals, medical schools, adult education centers and nonprofit organizations. It’s also a good idea to become familiar with an established curriculum, such as "English for Nurses and Medical Personnel." After graduation, instructors may also find jobs with organizations that offer online Medical English courses or seek jobs with organizations like English for Nurses, which offers Medical English workshops in hospitals.

Medical English instructors should have many job opportunities available as this career path develops, whether they’re teaching doctors who already live overseas or teaching medical students who have come to America from another country. As well, Medical English gives EFL graduates a great way to enhance their employability and their earnings.

One Comment on "Teaching Medical English: A Niche Career Opportunity for EFL Instructors"

  1. Hani 2015/12/21 at 12:39 am ·


    I have been teaching Medical English for more than 14 years and glad to find a job in USA. Would you give a hand in this? I am Egyptian – master degree in Medical English curriculum.


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