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Do You Speak Medical?

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Do You Speak Medical?

I regret that I never mastered a second language.  English is it for me.  French class nearly ruined my GPA as an undergraduate.  In veterinary school, I paid one of my classmates from Spain to try to teach me Spanish.  She worked at it; I worked at it; but,  it seems the spot in my brain for language development may have closed.

Once on a trip to Germany I was proud  I had mastered some phrases.  Roaming the streets  while searching for the entrance to a castle I practiced one of my German phrases on a nice older couple.  In my best accent, I asked them in German where I might find the entrance to the castle, please?  But, I hadn’t counted on the fact they would answer me in German!  My face instantly registered my shock.  And the nice woman said to her husband in English, “She is American.”  Next she proceeded to give me directions in English.

Yesterday, it finally occurred to me that I do know another language.  I am proficient in Medical.  Sometimes when I speak Medical, clients and staff look at me with the same look I gave to the nice German couple.  Next, I try to translate in English.

My veterinary professors warned us about speaking Medical to clients.  I recall an anecdote about a veterinarian asking a client to bring a fecal sample from their pet.  The client looked at the veterinarian with a blank expression.  The vet then proceeded to translate.  “Could you bring us a stool sample?”  Still, the blank look.  “A poop sample?”  No change in expression.  “How about a sample of number 2?”  Then the light finally went on for the client.

It cost me a lot to learn Medical.  It took eight years of college and at least $150,000 in student loans.  And when I speak Medical to my colleagues, it is a sort of short-hand that helps us understand exactly what we are seeing and doing.  Yesterday, I sedated an older labrador retriever that was having problems breathing.  Chest X-rays looked fine, but an exam of his throat clearly showed “bilateral laryngeal paralysis.”  With just three words, I can communicate the diagnosis to a veterinary specialist who can help this dog.  But saying those same three words to my client produces the same shocked look I gave the Germans.  I begin to translate.  It takes me another 15 minutes of counseling and some written hand-outs and photographs to communicate that the dog cannot open his airway enough to move air properly and will need a surgery to relieve the problem.

I am so proud to be bilingual now!  It is my job to translate Medical so clients can help their pets.

If you have trouble understanding Medical, be sure to speak up and ask your doctor for a translation.  If you still don’t understand, however, there are some great resources on the Web to help you.  Here are some sites that might help you:  Sponsored by The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)  Sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)  Sponsored by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN)


Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, Florida