Jo’s mother had suffered a number of strokes and was undergoing an assessment to see if she needed to be institutionalized. The doctor asked her a number of questions then asked her to spell what she heard as ‘W E L L’. No said the doctor. She tried again – once spelling W I L L and then trying W O O L, both times to be told she was wrong. Jo was angry as she had heard the same word and thought her mother’s spelling correct. Finally the mother took a guess and spelt ‘W O R L D’ which was correct. Jo was very angry and spoke with the doctor’s supervisor. The consequence of this doctor not pronouncing the ‘r’ nor the final consonant ‘d’ could have been serious.
Doctors and their employers need to be aware that clear communication is essential, particularly in cases such as this one. In Australia, doctors who have achieved the right to practise have worked hard to get through the compulsory exams. After registration there is still a duty of care responsibility to make sure that communication is not impeded by factors such as pronunciation difficulties.
This is especially the case in the area of psychiatric medicine.
Related to this area of communication difficulties is the ability of overseas trained doctors to understand colloquial language. I heard a radio interview with a doctor who on his first day on the job in a country town was puzzled when his patient said, "I think I've got a nasty wog."
Most Australians will know this to mean, "I think I have a bad case of the flu."
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