I am involved with SLC as a Consultant in English for Medical Purposes along with Byron Russell, Pete Sharma ,Seth Dickens and Nik Peachey. Without blowing my/our trumpets too much I think I can say that the reason we are involved is because we are specialists in our fields. This has become more and more important in ESP course development and course provision. In the early days of the Business English course, I had the experience which is shared by many teachers of being invited to develop a course in 'English for Nursing and Health' because 'you were a nurse,weren't you?'. Teaching materials were scarce, grossly outdated or non-existent. This was one of the reasons I co-wrote 'Cambridge English for Nursing' with Patricia McGarr in the first place.
I had been approached by my boss at an ELICOS school at an Australian TAFE (college of technical and further education) to get a 10 week course together for English students who were hoping to continue with studies in the healthcare or childcare area. I had to cover Nursing, Massage Therapy, Naturopathy, Childcare and anything else which was vaguely medical. Every year there was a Study group form Japan who would come over for a week. Invariably I would be told that they were all radiologists and would find that they were actually optometrists so would have to change lessons from lots of information about bones and X-rays to lots of information about eyes. Fortunately, they were too polite to complain.
By 2006 I had moved from the ELICOS department to Learning Support with lecturing in the Diploma of Nursing tipped into the job description. It quickly became obvious that international students needed a lot of support throughout the course and would have done well to have completed some pre-arrival learning as the health-related courses were very rigorous. International students had particular difficulty with workplace placements. It was already challenging for students to enter a hospital, nursing home or naturopath/massage clinic which was unfamiliar territory. Then, add the language challenge within a pressured environment and stress levels rose each week.
It became clear to me that training in the specialist language nurses would be using was imperative. The difficulty was to balance the technical language they need with the basic communication skills they would be using. The dialogues which I wrote for the 'Cambridge English for Nursing' books all came from personal experience. Some were jumbled together and some were experiences I had had but 'fixed up' to be better communications or rather the sort of communications we want nurses to achieve.
I have modified my views on the sort of input I would like to see in course books and in courses as I continue to work in hospitals in the South-West of England. Because I work as an Agency nurse, I tend to move around different wards and units and have the opportunity to experience how a newcomer feels. Each new place I work, I have to ask where things are kept and ask about the particular policies of the unit. There are a lot of communications to check that I am filling out paperwork as they want it filled out and to ask about things I am unsure of. It has given me a taste of the feelings of the newcomer without the stress of not speaking the language confidently. Terminology is not standard everywhere but it is usually only a few things which are slightly different. I hope that standardisation is coming as it is ridiculous to have three or four expressions for the same thing. I still find it odd that a blood glucose test can be referred to as a 'BM' (blood monitoring), cbs (capillary blood sugar), bsl (blood sugar level) or bgl (blood glucose level) !
Because I feel that overseas healthcare professionals need to understand medical and hospital terms to be able to work confidently in an English-speaking environment , I am writing books in a series 'English for Medical Purposes'. The books aim to supply practice in the vocabulary used while working in hospitals or nursing homes and practice in using the sorts of charts and documentation used in the workplace. They are more content-based than communication-focused course books. As such they complement the books which are currently on the market for doctors and nurses. Learning to communicate well in English is essential for the 'caring professions' but it is also important to have the vocabulary to communicate with. I hope my books are able to supply this!