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"You Can't be a Good Doctor Unless you are Good at English"

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

- Dr. Alongkone, Vice-Dean of the University of Health Sciences (Lao's medical school)

Patsy Kent (left) and Dr. Manivanh discuss publication of one of the

doctor's textbooks critical to improving the practice of medicine in Lao.

“I want the students to be attracted to learning, to enjoy learning,” began Dr. Manivanh, a former dean at the University of Health Sciences. REI staff woman Patsy Kent was sitting with her in the office of the English department and had just asked what her motivation was for wanting to update her textbook materials.

A few weeks before this meeting, Patsy learned about a foundation interested in financially supporting REI projects in different countries. She immediately thought of Dr. Manivanh and how she might be interested in publishing a textbook she had written. When they met to discuss possibilities, Patsy discovered that Dr. Manivanh had actually written six different textbooks: Anatomy I, Anatomy II, Histology, Neuro-anatomy and Medical Terminology -- a goldmine of information created for the Lao context by this highly-qualified Lao physician and professor. When Dr. Manivanh was teaching courses, she gave sections of these textbooks to her students, but the books themselves had never been printed. (In Lao there are very few textbooks available. Textbooks from outside the country don’t tend to be imported either, as they are expensive and are written at a very high English level.)

“Of all your textbooks, what would you consider the most important one to publish?” Patsy asked Dr. Manivanh. She replied, “Medical Terminology Applied to Clinical Practice.” She explained that many medical terms do not have Lao equivalents, so this book was written in English with some explanation in Lao language. There was nothing available like it. Dr. Manivanh believed it would be a tremendous resource for medical students and physicians throughout the country.

“What would you need to get the book ready to be published?”

“Collaborators,” she answered, “specifically English-speaking doctors or other medical people who could provide scenarios, clinical cases and other texts in the medical and cultural context of Laos.” Patsy explained that was something REI would love to partner with her to do! “You know,” Dr. Manivanh said, leaning in toward Patsy, “I have not so many years to live. These textbooks are my treasure to give the world.”

Medical staff from many departments receive certificates

for English proficiency from REI teachers.

REI has been working with Lao English teachers since 2014 to create English language curriculum for medical students. Until recently, Lao medical personnel did not need to know English, as Lao and French were used in the region. But soon English proficiency will be required in order to graduate from the medical university. And English is now being incorporated throughout departments in the hospitals, for presentations and conferences, and in research and advanced education. As the vice-dean of the Lao medical school explained to Doug Erdmann, REI’s president, “You can’t be a good doctor unless you are good at English.”

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