The second-year medical English course at the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Medicine

Christopher Holmes

21 July 2004


On 17 March 2004, Christopher Holmes spoke to MITA about "Teaching medical English to undergraduates at the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Medicine". At that time, he covered only the medical English course that all first-year medical students are required to take. On July 21, he reported on the second-year medical English requirement: course content, student feedback, and possible changes in the second-year and third-year program.

Required courses (total 40 hours)
  • Medical English 1
  • Medical English 2


  • Medical English 3 (Clinical Spoken English)
  • Extracurricular activities (ER Evening, Extra Medical English, Oral Presentation Training)

The purposes of the University of Tokyo Faculty of Medicine's Medical English program:

  • to improve students' passive and active command of English through development of reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills (language instruction),

  • to increase students' medical vocabulary and thereby their understanding of medicine (enrichment),

  • to accustom students to non-Japanese norms and behavior (acculturation),

  • to prepare students to function in non-Japanese professional settings (training for overseas clerkships and internships and active participation in international conferences), and

  • to humanize students' medical education (re-humanization).

Activities in ME2 included notably:
  • First day: demonstrations of extracurricular ER Evening and Extra Medical English program

  • Worksheets (for reading assignments & listening exercises)

  • Templates (for next-speaker introduction, drug explanation)

  • Readings, summarization

  • Mini-presentations (on a medical specialty, a symptom or sign), explanation (of a drug mechanism, indications/contraindications, side effects)

  • Morning Report case presentation

  • "What I Learned in Class Today"

Feedback  data: Free-form self-assessment:
("What I Learned in Medical English 2 This Semester")

Total responses from four classes: 9/10, 10/13, 7/8, 12/24 = 38/55 (69%)

Student comments (paraphrased), from most to least frequent:

  • I learned/improved my presentation (communication) skills (23)

  • I learned medical facts (about autism, depression, malpractice, specialties, clinical skills) (13)

  • I learned medical terms, vocabulary (11)

  • I read (interesting) essays, (useful) case presentation materials (demonstrating importance of non-medical factors in disease, improving summarizing skills) (11)

  • I practiced listening (10)

  • I practiced role playing, history taking (8)

  • I realized my need for more study (7)

  • I learned correct pronunciation, realized the importance of correct pronunciation (6)

  • I practiced writing, WILICT (5)

  • I had opportunities for discussion, speaking English (5)

  • ME2 was too difficult, especially the listening exercises (5)

  • ME2 requirements competed with club activities, Monday exams (5)

  • I reviewed medical facts I had learned earlier in Japanese (3)

  • I realized my need for more reading and writing practice (2)

  • ME2 eased my anxiety about speaking English/my reluctance to speak English (2)

  • The homework was too difficult (2)

Other points raised by one student each:

  • The class was too long (attention flagged, fatigue)

  • I wanted to debate issues in class

  • I wanted to be taught more basic vocabulary

  • I wanted to see (video-taped) examples of real physical examinations

  • We should have spent more time in group learning

What was good about the 2004 ME2 course?
  • Acquisition and development of presentation basics
  • Teaching of students by fellow students
  • Vocabulary acquisition, activation
  • Development of explaining skills
  • Reporting of simple facts, statistics
  • Summarization
  • Appropriate (light) homework burden
What was bad about the 2004 ME2 course?
  • Too little question asking, too little discussion
  • Competition with Monday exams
  • Dispersion: each class day should have focused on a single activity and a single topic/theme
  • "Melting pot" atmosphere: students could have, and should have, been separated according to ability; some "palsy-walsy" students should have been separated
  • Lack of emphasis on intensive reading and challenging medical English vocabulary
  • Lax attendance policy.

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