I am an American physician based at an academic medical center in New York where I treat a diverse group of patients from around the world. Speaking French for my patients from Europe as well as West African and the “DOM-TOM” (France Outre-Mer) happens with regularity at my hospital and as a result I’ve sought out opportunities not just to practice French but to practice medical french. I have also spent time working abroad, particularly in West Africa (e.g. Senegal) in small clinics for the emergency medicine system. It’s been an immensely humbling and rewarding experience, and I’ve personally found that for English speaking physicians seeking professional opportunities in the French speaking world, we may run into challenges both linguistically as well as culturally (e.g. medical approaches you may be unused to as well as cultural differences in general). What I loved about the Anglo-French Medical Society was that the course was tailored beyond just memorizing medical vocabulary and lessons. An emphasis was placed on in situ (aka real world) applications of medical lessons during the weekend, as well as practical questions such as the logistics and operational challenges of practicing in France. I have now taken this course twice and each time have used the knowledge gained from the session to my daily practice in the Emergency Department either in New York or abroad.
I think speaking and working in language different from your native tongue is both a great way to flex your intellectual toolkit, but also importantly give us all perspective and empathy for those who are not native speakers. Whenever I get a bit frustrated with an individual, whose native tongue is not English, struggling to express him or herself either professionally or personally, I think back of my own challenges with French and tip my hat to them and their efforts.
Bernard P. Chang, M.D., Ph.D
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, New York