Why language matters
Point blank, if you can’t speak, you can’t work. You can’t communicate. You will not be effective at your job and the clients won’t want to see you, the employer won’t want to have you as you cost them clients and bring headaches with misunderstandings.
Language is the fundamental skill of a foreign veterinary surgeon. Sure experience matters, but we’re all vets and we’ve all learnt to be vets during University.
Communication skills, however, are poorly explored during university degrees, if at all in the majority of them. They are, in my modest opinion, what makes you a better vet. No point in being all wise and savvy if you can’t tell the owner why they need to do this procedure only you can do in the entire country. However if you can explain someone what’s wrong with their beloved pet in a way they understand and relate to, you’ll be the best vet for this client even if you’ve done absolutely nothing to diagnose or treat their pet.
Keep this in mind – even though your goal is to oversee the welfare of the animals that are your clients, the real clients are the owners. If you can’t deal with people you probably shouldn’t be doing first opinion, because you’re dealing with people all day, every day. If you want to see less people try to get surgery roles. Bear in mind, however, those are the ones more likely to go wrong if you don’t communicate well!
There is another very simple reason good language skills matter, and if you’ve got work experience in your home country you will know. The role of a consulting veterinary surgeon is extremely communicative and vocal. I dare you to make a successful appointment without saying a word… do you think the client is going to be impressed? You’ll also notice this, like me, if you ever have voice problems.
Your voice is important for clients and patients!
Advice from the RCVS for overseas members
The RCVS has a Guide for new members where they provide some advice to overseas registrants as many of them don’t speak English as first language and communication is essential in the profession. The RCVS reckons that poor communication is a common cause of complaint and therefore improving English skills is fundamental. You need to know enough English to practise as a veterinary surgeon, but unless you are sitting the Statutory Membership Examination (if your course is not recognised for direct application), you are NOT required to provide English Language qualification unless there are questions about your level of knowledge.
About 50% of new registrants every year are from outside the UK and English is often not their first language. This can in some instances lead to communication problems, which is a common cause of complaint. You are advised to attend a course in the use of English for veterinary or scientific purposes, because you must be able to communicate effectively with animal owners and colleagues.
It can be hard to do this when you’re not in the place, but speaking helps the most. Also, try to listen to online radio – do this during the day, for several days, and you’ll realise you’ll start to get the hang of it! If you know which area you want to move to, try to listen to a local radio station!
When it comes to online things you can do, finding online paid courses is easy. Finding something for free is not that easy! On our facebook group, one of the members posted a website that allows discussions in English between people based on routine subjects. The discussions are moderated but I have not tried them myself yet. There is no money involved, you only need to register, and you can see when the next discussions are going to be held on their website:
You can also go through a free online course (free for 8 weeks) about understanding the IELTS test and learning some tricks to improve your language skills. You can access this course at FutureLearn.
What you hear and what it means
People don’t talk like in films, where everything is scripted. They speak with slang, accent, expressions, and generally much faster than in any film or even radio program. Here are some expressions from Scotland you might hear (in other places too maybe?).
If you work in the UK and heard of different expressions or know a different meaning for the ones here, please let me know!
Common expressions (in Scotland!) and their meaning
- “My bitch is on the break” – the bitch is in season/heat
- “My dog is in for the jags/jabs” – this typically means the client is bringing the patient down for vaccination. Always check though! I once had a dog coming down for “the jag” and turns out it was not a vaccination, instead she was in for an injection of proligeston (which is for chemical control of the female cycle). Needless to say client wasn’t impressed his bitch walked out with both injections given…
- “She is as rescue, I don’t know if she is dressed” – people use to term “dressed” instead of neutered, spayed or castrated
- “I need to get him snipped.” – yeah, you got it, we’re talking about castration
- “Ken” is used to replace “know”
- “A dinnae ken” = I don’t know
- “D’ye no ken?” = Don’t you know?
- They won’t say “can’t”, they will say something that sounds like “canna”, similar to the way they say “dinna”
- “Gonny naw dae that?” = Will you please stop doing that? I think of it as English with an accent “Can you not do that?”
Some acronyms (you might find them in clinical notes)
- PTS – put to sleep (euthanasia)
- OOH – out-of-hours (services provided when the practices are closed/only taking emergencies)
- RTA – road traffic accident (normally polytraumatised patient)
- SOAP – stands for “Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan” and is a method of examining patients and recording findings
- PE – physical examination
- BAR – stands for “bright, alert and responsive”
- QAR – stands for “quiet, alert and responsive”
- NAD – “no abnormalities detected”
- EOD – every other day
- TPR – temperature, pulse, respiration
- SA – small animal
- LA – large animal
- US – ultrasound
- INB – if not better (usually written down in clinical records, for instance “will need x-ray tomorrow inb”)
- EDUF or FUDE or similar variations – stands for Eating, Drinking, Urine, Faeces or the other way around. You will see it in clinical notes, such as “FUDE normal”
- AG/AGs – often used as “anal glands” (yep, sorry, common 1st opinion complaint)
- CPR (or CPCR) – cardiopulmonary resuscitation
- DNR – “do not resuscitate”, meaning if patient goes into cardiac arrest, CPR is not to be done