Medical Student Second Language Abilities and Confidence in Clinical Use: Mandarin Pilot

  • Meiying Zhuang Vancouver Fraser Medical Program 2018, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia
  • Wynn Tran Vancouver Fraser Medical Program 2018, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia
  • Kendall Ho Department of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia



Language barriers are a common obstacle for medical students in multicultural centers. Students may have conversational skills in non-English languages, but find it cumbersome to use these languages in a clinical setting. We investigated the demand for resources to enhance medical communication across language barriers and the role for workshops in achieving this purpose.


Mandarin workshops and a phrasebook with medical terms were created and delivered to medical students, along with the opportunity to practice at a blood pressure clinic in the community. Surveys of medical students before and after the workshops, and three months following, were collected to determine the impact of different resources. Community members attending the blood pressure clinic were surveyed to gauge their preferences.


Among medical student respondents, 86% spoke a non-English language, but only 24% were at least "quite a bit" confident in communicating with patients in a non-English language. After the Mandarin workshops, 82% of participants reported perceived benefits to their confidence in communicating with patients in Mandarin, and the phrasebook and peer coaching in Mandarin were rated as the most useful resources. Mandarin-speaking community members reported they would be more comfortable seeing providers who had learned basic Mandarin (7.5/10) compared to none at all (4.4/10).


Medical students’ confidence communicating in Mandarin can be bolstered with resources including workshops and phrasebooks. This approach could be used for other languages to improve communication and contribute to more satisfying, effective and comfortable care for patients with limited English.
Academic Research