Are you a healthcare professional with patients whose first language is English? Or maybe you’d like to work in an English-speaking country? There’s no doubt that learning medical English will help you communicate with your patients and do your job well!
Here are 50 very common phrases to help you in your work. Even if you and your patients speak different languages, English can be the common language that will help you communicate. These phrases might also be the beginning of your journey to work in an English-speaking country.
Phrases Patients Might Say
1. I need a physical.
When we use the word “physical” as a noun, it means a yearly medical examination by a doctor to make sure the patient is healthy.
2. Do I need to have surgery?
To “have surgery” means to cut open a part of the body to repair or remove a body part that is damaged. Another name for surgery is “an operation.” “Operation” needs an article – “Do I need an operation?”
3. That’s a big needle.
Many people use the word “needle” to refer to a syringe, a tool that injects medicine or withdraws blood from the body. Sometimes a patient will say, “Are you going to give me a shot?” They are asking if you are going to give them an injection with a syringe.
4. We will schedule you for out-patient surgery next week.
An “out-patient” procedure means that the patient doesn’t stay at your facility overnight. If you are an “in-patient,” that means that your procedure requires you to stay at least one night in a hospital.
5. The nurse will take you in a wheelchair.
A “wheelchair” is a chair with wheels used by people who can’t, or shouldn’t, walk.
6. I had a heart attack last year.
“Heart attack” is a common way to say that something is blocking the flow of blood to the heart, technically known as a myocardial infarction. Sometimes it can also be called “a coronary.”
7. I threw up last night.
To “throw up” is a phrasal verb that means to vomit, or to expel the food that was in your stomach.
8. It’s urgent that I see a doctor.
“Urgent” means something needs to happen right now, and that it cannot wait.
9. I think I might be pregnant.
To be “pregnant” means that you are expecting a baby.
10. It hurts when I breathe.
When something “hurts,” it causes pain. This is not usually a severe pain, but it was enough pain that the person asked for a doctor’s help. The word “ache” has a similar meaning, but it’s used more often with another word: headache, stomach ache, back ache. However, a patient could also say, “My arm aches,” or “My stomach hurts.”
11. My son scraped his knee.
If you fall on a rough surface, such as cement, you might lose the very top layer of skin. To “scrape” a knee or an elbow is not usually a serious issue, and is something that can be taken care of easily with a plastic bandage.
12. I have a scar on my arm.
A “scar” is a mark left on the skin by a wound that has already healed.
13. I cut myself on the broken dish.
“Cut” can be a noun or a verb. Someone can have a “cut” on their finger, or they can “cut themselves” on a sharp object. You can see that this verb is reflexive.
14. He has a laceration on his leg.
A “laceration” is more serious than a simple “cut,” and will probably require stitches.
15. Do I need stitches?
“Stitches” is a common way to refer to sutures, or when a deep laceration needs to be held closed with thread or staples.
16. It’s just a scratch.
A “scratch” is a very shallow cut in the skin. “Scratch” can also be a verb. “Don’t scratch that mosquito bite.”
17. I have a lump in my neck.
A “lump” is a small raised area that usually feels harder than the tissue around it. A patient may have a “lump” in her breast (a tumor).
18. I bumped my head.
If you feel a swollen place on a patient’s head caused by injury, it’s called a “bump.”
19. I think I pulled a muscle.
A “pulled muscle” means that during strenuous exercise or accident, the muscle tissue was damaged in some way and is causing pain.
20. I’m allergic to penicillin.
Being “allergic” to something means that using that medicine, or eating that food, will cause a reaction of some kind.
Phrases Healthcare Professionals Might Say
21. Please roll up your sleeve.
You might use the phrasal verb “roll up” when you need to have the patient move the clothing on their arm or leg.
22. Does this hurt?
You are asking if a certain movement causes pain.
23. We need a urine sample.
The patient needs to urinate in a cup so the laboratory can test the contents.
24. I need to take a blood sample.
You are asking for permission to test some of the patient’s blood.
25. I want you to see a specialist.
The patient has a condition that needs a doctor who only sees patients with that condition, such as a cardiologist, or a neurologist.
26 and 27. You should cut down on your drinking.
“Cut down” means that you should reduce the frequency of a certain action. You don’t have to stop, just not do that thing very often.
“Drinking” in this context refers to drinking alcohol. Context is important for this word. If you are at a bar and someone says, “Would you like a drink?” they are referring to alcohol. If you are at a friend’s house during the day and they ask, “Would you like something to drink?” they are probably referring to water or another non-alcoholic beverage.
28. You need to lose weight.
The patient needs to achieve a healthy body weight. This phrase is very direct and might cause offense. A more polite way to say this would be, “We need to get you on a healthy eating plan.”
29. I’m going to give you a prescription.
A “prescription” means that you want the patient to take medication. It can also very informally be called a “scrip.”
30. I’ll call it in to your pharmacist.
“Pharmacist” is the American word for the medical professional who dispenses medicine. In the UK and Australia, the word is “chemist.”
31. Your blood pressure is abnormally high.
“Abnormal” means that it is not normal.
32. Is the pain acute?
“Acute” means bad, or severe.
33. His condition is deteriorating.
“Deteriorate” is a verb that means something is getting worse, and it will be very difficult to restore or repair.
34. We should call an ambulance.
An “ambulance” is an emergency vehicle that takes patients to a hospital very quickly.
35. Your tumor is benign.
“Benign” means that something is not cancerous, or containing cancer.
36. We should do a biopsy.
“Doing a biopsy” means to remove a small amount of tissue for testing.
37. How did you get these bruises?
“Bruise” can be a noun or a verb. A discoloration of the skin caused by an injury is “a bruise.” To cause this kind of injury, we use the verb “to bruise.”
38. You need a cast.
A “cast” is a hard plaster bandage that keeps an injury immobilized.
39. We have some crutches you can use.
A patient might need “crutches” if he has a broken leg in a cast, and needs temporary assistance to walk.
40. He is in critical condition.
If a patient is in “critical condition,” he needs care immediately.
41. Please fill out your family medical history.
A “family history” is a record of medical problems suffered by a patient’s family members.
Other Medical Vocabulary
These words are commonly used in a casual way.
42. We need to disinfect for germs.
A “germ” is any microorganism, such as a bacteria or virus, that causes disease.
43. The cut is filled with pus.
“Pus” is the mucus that is visible in an infected wound, or in the nose of someone who has a respiratory infection.
44. I caught a cold.
When we use the word “cold” as a noun, it means a common respiratory sickness that isn’t severe. It usually consists of a cough, a respiratory infection, a sore throat, etc. We say “catch a cold.”
45. My nose is running. or I have a runny nose.
If your nose is “running,” the pus or mucus inside is very watery, and you can’t control it as it leaves your nose.
46. I have a newborn.
A “newborn” is typically a baby from one to three months old.
47. I have an infant.
An “infant” is typically a baby from three to nine months old who is not crawling or ambulatory.
48. I have a baby.
A “baby” is typically a small child from nine to eighteen months who can crawl or walk.
49. I have a toddler.
A “toddler” is a small child from eighteen months to perhaps three years old, who is able to walk, or “toddle.”
50. I have a preschooler.
A “preschooler” is a child four to five years old, who has not started public school.
I hope these medical phrases have helped you learn how to better help your English-speaking patients! If you can assist patients in English, as well as in your language, many doors will open to you in your career as a medical professional.
For more tips, take a look at this post about how to translate your CV into English. Leave a comment below and tell me how you use English in your job! See you in the next post!