Dispute about German language skills of doctors
Every year, tens of thousands of doctors come to Germany from abroad. In 2012, Romanians led the physician influx statistics broken down by country. They were followed by Greeks, Hungarians, Bulgarians and Slovaks. In all these countries, the German language is not part of the basic medical curriculum. Therefore, these doctors have to prove additional language skills if they want to work in Germany.
Despite this, nurses often complain that they are unable to communicate effectively with some doctors about patients’ conditions and therapies, or that they have had to neglect their own duties to act as permanent interpreters. Die meisten Beobachter sehen die Losung dieses Problems in zusatzlichen Sprachkursen fur arzte oder in einer Erhohung der Anforderungen fur den Nachweis von Sprachkenntnissen, die in den einzelnen deutschen Bundeslandern sehr unterschiedlich sind.
NRW Minister of Labor. Guntram Schneider. Foto: (c) Raimond Spekking / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)
Der nordrhein-westfalische Arbeitsminister Guntram Schneider (SPD) tanzte da etwas aus der Reihe, als er im Dezember auf der Veranstaltung "Integration durch Ausbildung" vor der Handwerkskammer Munster meinte, "das Problem ware schon gelost, wenn mehr Patienten Englisch konnten". The sentence, electronically documented by the radio journalist Simon Pannock, took some time to reach a wider public due to the holidays – but now it has triggered a public debate.
Among other things, the report criticizes Schneider, a trained toolmaker, for his lack of knowledge about the functioning of the human brain, which in an old and sick state is only capable of learning new languages to a very limited extent. Moreover, even a good knowledge of English is not enough to understand medical vocabulary without looking it up, as illustrated, for example, by an episode of Dr. House in the original illustrates. The German Medical Association and the Marburger Bund are therefore calling not only for uniform nationwide language tests at a minimum level of B2, but also for separate examinations that specifically test medical terminology.
The health ministers of the federal states will decide in a few months whether there will be such special examinations. It’s unlikely that they’ll let patients learn English instead: This approach is not only being met with astonishment in the European Union "", but also in the SPD, where it is feared behind closed doors that Schneider could have permanently alienated many older core voters. In this context, the relativization now coming from his ministry could also be understood, that the long-time union official, married to a native Romanian, did not mean with his statement that patients should better learn English "must".