"I’ve noticed that body parts and internal organs can get mixed up," says Urb, who teaches Finnish at Helsinki University's Sukkula programme. The course is seen as a prescription for improving the ability of foreign doctors to communicate with patients but also get a leg up on Finnish medical jargon.
Like other foreigners learning Finnish, doctors also notice that spoken language can differ greatly from the perfectly articulated Finnish taught in the classroom.
Finland’s medical safety watchdog Valvira requires that foreign physicians looking to work in the country achieve language certification. However regular Finnish language courses don’t always cover medical terminology, which is where specialised programmes like Sukkula fill an important void.
Credibility at stake
Urb says even the slightest mistake or pronunciation problem can lead patients to question a physician’s professionalism.
“For some reason doctors seem to feel more comfortable asking nurses for grammatical help than from their Finnish colleagues,” explains Urb.
But the differences are not only linguistic. According to Urb, foreign-born doctors are more talkative than their Finnish counterparts.
“Russian doctors in particular find the basic 20-minute consultation time to be too short,” she says.
To date some 120 physicians have participated in the Sukkula programme organised at university extension centres in the eastern cities of Kouvola, Kotka and Lappeenranta.
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