Sara Teichholtz, Medical Student, 02:38AM Oct 9, 2013
Yesterday, we had our introduction to clinical medicine course. In many ways, it was similar to the course that I had taken for two years in the States. We'll need to acquire a stethoscope and a reflex hammer in order to practice the physical exam components, we'll be learning how to perform a medical interview, and our skills in these two areas will be tested in the OSCEs. There were two major factors that distinguished this course introduction from the one I'd had back home. First, there was no mention of dress code (have I mentioned how much I dislike wearing business professional shoes?) and second, this course will prepare us to take the OSCEs in Hebrew.
There is a spectrum of Hebrew knowledge among my classmates and I, but suffice it to say that putting a few Pimsleur audio files aside, I fall into the lowest rung of prior Hebrew exposure. This is a bit more concerning given the fact that I also miss out on a year of conversational Hebrew instruction since I'm jumping straight into second year, but I like to think that this is just extra motivation to study. Currently, it's a victory when I can order a falafel in Hebrew, so knowing that I will soon be taking a test in Hebrew is a daunting thought. Like many experiences in medical school, however, I am looking forward to this as much as I am worrying about it. Because as difficult as it will be to acquire this new skill set, knowing the language is a tool that will benefit me more than any USMLE resources ever could. Here, it doesn't matter how complete my medical knowledge is -- if I don't have the tools to communicate with the patient, everything else I've studied won't help me.
This has become especially clear now that I'm a patient in another language. In most of my daily experiences -- falafel buying, bus travel, direction-asking -- I can usually fall back on English if I don't know the right words in Hebrew (always). Being an English-speaker is like having life training-wheels in that respect. The one time that I generally can't count on being able to communicate in English, ironically enough, is at the doctor's office. So far, I've had to make appointments entirely in Hebrew and, aside from one lucky appointment with an English-speaking doctor, struggle through appointments entirely in Hebrew. (This is where I'm incredibly blessed to have a Hebrew-speaking roommate who has been able to accompany me to the doctor). Thankfully these visits haven't been for anything that's not routine, but even something as simple as filling a prescription can be tricky when done mainly in charades.
One of my previous clinical professors used to love to repeat the famous quote of William Osler: “Listen to your patient. He is telling you the diagnosis.” Being on the other side of the language barrier made me realize the weight of these words. The struggle of conveying even the most simple concepts has illustrated the importance of each word in a conversation between physician and patient. When I return back to the states fourth year for clinical rotations, I expect I will be losing some of the Hebrew words that I'm learning for my third year OSCEs, but the importance of communication is a lesson that will remain with me throughout my career.