The ability to use English competently is critical for the study and practice of medicine in an international setting. As written by the Institute for Healthcare Communication, “extensive research has shown that no matter how knowledgeable a clinician might be, if he or she is not able to open good communication with the patient, he or she may be of no help”. When a student applies to an international medical school, with the view to practicing medicine in an English-speaking country, they should be able to demonstrate their proficiency in English. This is commonly done by passing a language test, such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). With over 3.5 million IELTS tests taken each year and an increase in the number of students looking to study medicine abroad in English-speaking countries such as the US and UK, St. George’s University (SGU) School of Medicine, Grenada, in the Caribbean shares what aspiring medical students need to know about this test and its importance in international medical education.
What is the IELTS?
IELTS is a standardized test that measures English language abilities. It is widely recognized for medical students and healthcare professionals who wish to study or practice medicine in English-speaking countries. The test covers four key language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking.
The test is available in over 140 countries and is accepted by over 10,000 organizations, including universities, professional bodies, and government agencies. It is recognized by many medical schools in English-speaking countries, including the UK, Australia, the United States, and the Caribbean, as a required part of the admission process for international medical students.
What is considered a ‘good’ IELTS score for medical school?
IELTS scores are reported on a nine-band scale, with scores ranging from 0 to 9, with higher scores indicating a higher level of proficiency. For admission into most international universities, including St. George’s University School of Medicine, students need to achieve a 7.0 overall and 7.0 on all bands. This indicates that the test taker has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and misunderstandings in some situations. They generally handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning.
What if I don’t meet requirements?
Check what support your medical school can give. SGU offers language support programs including Pre-sessional English programs, the English for Medicine Pathway (EMP), and Medical Academic Communication (MAC) for students who do not meet direct entry English requirements. These programs support the development of communication skills for studying and practicing medicine in an English-speaking context.
Communication and International Medical Education
The communication skills and tasks required both for the study and practice of medicine are dynamic and complex. “Our students need to do more than simply have conversations or write papers in English. The study and practice of medicine requires students to be able to synthesize, analyze, and apply evidence from multiple sources – key critical thinking skills and foundational for Evidence-Based Practice – clearly and concisely document notes for patients’ medical records, show empathy during the medical interview, and actively engage in collaborations with colleagues. These are just some of the many key communication skills needed,” says Kasey Larson, Director of the Specialized English Language Programs (SELP) Unit at St. George’s University.
A high level of English competence is required to engage effectively and learn in the interactive context of a medical school, and it is necessary to demonstrate competence on the course and standardized licensing exams.
Students are now more aware than ever that the journey isn’t over once they earn their degree. They need to consider where they would like to practice medicine once they graduate. While language proficiency tests can appear daunting, they are a straightforward – and critical – step in foreign students’ educational paths. The IELTS provides a springboard from which non-English speakers can launch their medical careers, granting them the necessary qualification to succeed in English-speaking countries regardless of their geographical location.
As no other medical school in the world provides more new doctors to the US healthcare system*, St. George’s University is well-versed in supporting aspiring doctors with their journey to a career in medicine and appreciates the importance of equipping these students with a well-rounded skill set.
* As the medical school graduates the largest number of students annually, SGU places the largest number of graduates into residency programs each year, based on internal SGU graduate and residency placement data as of May 2022.