Looking Back: Developing Communication Skills for Healthcare Professionals

ISANS 030“Hey doc, I’ve got a frog in my throat and I’m stuffed up.” If you were an internationally-educated healthcare professional starting work in Canada, you might wonder what your patient means. Does she really have a frog in her throat? Stuffed up with what?  ISANS first identified the need for a communications class for healthcare professionals in 2004. After careful planning, research and development, the first Communication for Internationally Educated Healthcare Professionals class was held in the fall of 2005. The course textbook was published in April 2006, and includes an instructor manual, a student workbook and a medical terminology guide.

A focus group of newcomer healthcare professionals, both those employed in their fields and those awaiting licensure, helped set the tone for the class. The curriculum developer worked with them, and with mainstream healthcare professionals, to create a program that addressed a wide variety of communication skills. For example, interacting with patients, co-workers and supervisors; interviewing patients; describing symptoms and common ailments; showing empathy and giving bad news; and understanding the culture of healthcare in Canada.

Visit to the Kellogg Library
Visit to the Kellogg Library

The program is inter-disciplinary by design to reflect the reality of the Canadian workplace, where medical professionals work in healthcare teams. The first class was made up of pharmacists, physicians and nurses. Since then, we have gone on to educate dentists, physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, paramedics, medical lab technologists, and even a forensic pathologist.

Over the years, the course has expanded to include weekly community outings, giving the opportunity to network with healthcare professionals, practice their language in an authentic setting, and to experience Canadian workplace culture first-hand. The course format is now offered in modules, allowing newcomer healthcare professional more flexibility and giving them the time they need to prepare for professional exams.

The success of the course is best summed up in the words of a participant, “I am writing to inform you that I passed all Canadian medical exams. It was impossible to pass the exams without taking your excellent course ‘Communication for Healthcare Professionals’. I really appreciate it.”