A Study of the English Language Learning Challenges that Inhibit Displaced Medical Professionals from Returning to Practice in the UK
To join the General Medical Council (GMC) refugee doctors are required to pass professional and linguistic assessments. The first of these is the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test and, according to British Medical Association statistics released in 2008, this is a major barrier to progress, impeding the progress of 45% of refugee doctors. Drawing on my experiences of preparing refugee doctors for the IELTS test, I became interested in discovering what was holding them back. The students attending the daily classes were highly intelligent, motivated individuals who had a goal of integrating into their host country. Han (2004, pp.28-37) discusses the putative causes of stabilized language errors, which she describes as fossilization. However, the refugee doctors in my classes did not seem to fit into the traditional profile of a learner with these sorts of language errors. My aim was to work with the clients from the Wales Asylum-seeking and Refugee Doctors (WARD) group and to ask them to reflect on the stabilized language errors by means of a questionnaire, interview and focus group. During this project, twenty-two participants were asked about their beliefs about their stabilized language errors and asked about their strategies to overcome them. In addition, four expert witnesses working in the field of language testing in medicine were invited to provide further perspectives on these challenges. The research design foregrounded the participants’ views on their stabilized language errors and the causal factors that may have led to them. Former clients of the WARD group were sent a questionnaire asking them to self-assess their stabilized language errors and identify the causal factors. At the same time, current clients of the WARD group who were training for the IELTS test were given a diagnostic language quiz. Subsequently, they were interviewed to find out their views on their weaker areas identified in the diagnostic language quiz. When the results were analysed, emergent findings were presented to the interviewees in a focus group, to give them further opportunity to comment on the possible reasons for their stabilized language errors.
The main findings were that many of the participants who had achieved the GMC language requirements felt that they still had some stabilized language errors. The participants that were given the diagnostic language quiz while still training for the IELTS test did not exhibit as many problem areas. The participants attributed the majority of their problems to ‘input’ and ‘intake’ (Kumaravadivelu, 2006) or within Han’s (2004) six domains, ‘knowledge representation’ and ‘knowledge processing’. Initially, none of the participants felt that Han’s ‘neuro-biological’ and ‘socio-affective’ domains held them back. However, during the focus group, it appeared that the participants reconsidered their socio-affective problems but continued to reject the impact of any neuro-biological problems. Expert witnesses were called upon for their opinions and they corroborated many of the points made by the participant group. The findings identify how displaced medical healthcare professionals may be further supported in regaining their professional identities and to contributing fully to their host society.