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The Perks of Studying a language at Med-School

Updated: May 5, 2020

By Ellen Young

“What do you study?” A perfectly normal question. “Medicine and French". Perhaps not a completely expected answer.

Manchester Medical School uniquely offers the opportunity to study a language, in a medical context, and graduate with ‘Medicine with European Studies’.

First of all, what does this course entail? You apply to Medicine as normal at Manchester (no changes in the UCAS application process). Then midway through Semester One, all students are invited to apply for the Medical French, Spanish or German courses. The application process all take place on one day and includes a written exam and conversation, to gauge your level. Usually, you must have an A-level/equivalent proficiency to be accepted. Once accepted, classes start in Semester Two and carry on until fourth year! You tend to have a couple of hours taught classes and 3 hours ‘homework’ per week.

Now here comes the best bit: clinical placements abroad! In clinical years, European Studies students have the opportunity to go to countries that speak their studied language. Third year placement consists of a one-month block in June/July, where you get to arrange your own placement in a speciality that interests you. In fourth year, you can then decide yourself where to undertake the 6-week elective. Then in fifth year is when the really exciting stuff happens: a 4-week Student Assistantship block in the winter semester and your summer semester abroad on a 4-5-month placement, just before graduation and after finals! Essentially, you get to spend the last chunk of your degree running around hospital floors in Paris, Berlin or Madrid (just to name a few of the places you can go to through the university links). If that doesn’t excite you, I’m not sure what will.

Secondly, why on earth would anyone want to do this? Well, there are lots of reasons. You might be interested in the language for its own merits. I’ll be the first to admit, I get excited discovering a new way to greet someone en français - and this may be a compelling enough reason alone to convince any self-proclaiming language nerd onto this course. Secondly, the prospect of uncovering an entirely new area of the language - its medical lexicon - opens up an entire world of opportunity. Language is a currency and the more you have, the more you can discover about the world. Whether your dream is to work in Public Health, for NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières or simply be able to communicate with more of your patients, being able to communicate effectively in someone’s mother tongue is a sure-fire way to help put your patient at ease, work in better partnership and ultimately be a better doctor for them. Finally, the kind of people that are attracted to this course, are found to be very open minded and interested in how we can maximise our impact, as future healthcare professionals with a global context in mind. What’s not to love?

Overall, I have absolutely loved the course so far. Sure, it can be a lot of work and I don’t want to underplay that: you’re expected to spend 40 hours per week on Medicine, which can be a challenge. Combining this with extra hours language study can mean declining invitations once in a while and a slightly more stressful exam season. Despite this, the idea of my friends and I helping in surgery or delivering babies in French definitely overrides any feelings of missing out on karaoke once in a while and it is very much a scenario of short-term sacrifice for long term gain. It is also completely possible to balance and the faculty for European Studies is very accommodating to us. The content itself can also admittedly be a little dry. I’m not sure I’ve ever really wanted to know how to say blood pressure cuff in French - however the realisation that you can quiz a patient, communicate a diagnosis or procedure and function, as part of a team abroad is so exciting. Nevertheless, it does require a good few hours spent on flashcards going over your ‘cou' vs ‘cul’ (neck versus arse)! At the end of the day, for anyone who enjoys languages, open minded and is motivated by the prospect of practicing medicine in a new language and culture, I couldn’t recommend this course more. Don’t let fears about keeping up or the entry tests stop you: you’ll never know if you don’t try. Bisous et bonne chance!

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