Teaching Medical English: Yay!

I started writing this during my third month of teaching, and then forgot about it for several months. Bad Hedgehog. A lot has happened since then. Thus, here are my thoughts as of some time in April.


I’ve only been teaching for a few months now and I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. So far, my teaching method has been “pretend to be a competent teacher and maybe they won’t notice.” It makes me feel like I have a decent shot at an acting career.

When I got hired, they asked me if I can teach English for any specialized field. The money-maker here is business English, but I don’t have a background in business.

But I do have a background in medicine.

For those of you that didn’t click on the link above, when I first started at university, I thought I wanted to be a medical examiner (the one who cuts up bodies to figure out why the person died). Medical school is expensive, so I decided to get a job in a hospital to see if I liked it before committing to $250,000 in student loans.

I hated it. Anything involving health-care is going to be understaffed and extremely stressful. I got into it because I wanted to help people, but it’s hard to give each patient careful consideration when you have to take care of 500 of them in a single workday. On top of being completely overwhelmed, there’s also the chance that you might kill someone if you make a single mistake. Most of the people I worked with on this job were burnt out and just didn’t give a fuck, which is a terrible environment for helping people.

So I hated the actual work, but I loved everything else. I loved learning the chemistry and biology, and how living things function and interact. I loved the terminology, which is basically a separate language on its own. I loved feeling like I was contributing, like the things I learned from this job could be applied to real life (I still have relatives asking me about the medications they’re taking).

When I quit that job, it felt like everything I had learned was going to waste. I was completely changing fields, and it didn’t matter that I knew how to make a sterile IV bag or that dysuria means it hurts when you pee.

I spent the next few years in a different city, studying something completely different and not giving health care a second thought. The hospital wasn’t exactly a waste of time (just think of all the character I built!), but all the time and stress and brain space I had allocated to this horrible job certainly wasn’t being put to use, either.

Then, years later, on the other side of the planet, this language school gets a doctor who wants a private English tutor to help him interact better with his patients. They look at all their teachers to see if any of them have medical experience to help this guy.

And then they call me. They even offer to pay me a bonus, because it’s in a specialized field.

This was probably the most fun I’d had in the classroom thus far. I made him do role plays where I was the patient and he had to diagnose me and give me instructions. We went over body parts and organs, common medications and side effects, and the most common things people go to a hospital for.

In one of the role plays, I was a patient concerned about pelvic pain. I figured he’s going to eventually treat a woman, so he might as well know these words.

I put a lot of work into preparing these lessons, and I was in my element. After not having thought about medicine for six years, I was shocked at how easily it all came back. No amount of preparation at the language school could have helped me answer some of the questions that came up during class.

          Student: How to explain deep-vein thrombosis to a patient?

          Me: Most patients don’t know what that is, so we say ‘blood clot’ instead.

This was something that I brought with me, completely outside the realm of teaching.

At the end of the week, he told me, “This was exactly what I needed. We didn’t have time to cover everything, but I can use what you taught me in other areas to help my patients.” He shook my hand and thanked me profusely.

It was extremely validating.

Later I realized that I forgot to erase the board after I left the room. I sincerely hope that “Is there blood in your pee?” and “We need to take a urine sample” struck fear into the hearts of the students who showed up early for the next lesson.

This entry was posted in Living in Germany, Teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Teaching Medical English: Yay!

  1. Lizzie Ochoa says:

    Very awesome!! Glad that you forgot to erase the board, lol !! 😀

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