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Specialist Language Courses

Interview with Virginia Allum – author of SLC’s Online Medical English Courses PART I

Virginia Allum is the head of SLC’s Medical English courses and lead Medical English consultant. In addition to this, she is also a lecturer in English for Medical Purposes, a Medical English teacher trainer, and a widely published writer. Her written works include co-authoring the Cambridge English for Nursing text books, used by Medical universities around the world. She is also a practicing Registered Nurse, with years of practice in the UK and Australia.

  1. Tell us something about your background?
  • Nursing. I did my training at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in the early 1980s. From the mid 1980s to early 90s I ran a Home Nursing Service specialising in Palliative Care. In the early 90s I moved into mentoring; nurses during their ward placements. During my nursing career in Australia, I worked in several large public hospitals in Sydney as well as working in the community as a pathology collector. I also worked in Queensland in a both public and private hospitals. My main focus of interest was end-of-life care.
  • Australia -> UK: I moved to the UK in 2009 and started working at a private hospital in Torquay specialising in orthopaedic and cosmetic surgery.
  1. What made you go into teaching?

My first teaching experience was as a Nurse Facilitator in the then new degree in Nursing in Australia. It wasn’t until 1991 that I moved into Teaching English as a Foreign Language. I had enjoyed my time as a Nurse Facilitator and had a degree in foreign languages, so decided to move into English language teaching.

  1. And then, why did you start writing Medical English text books?

Moving into medical English writing was a ‘right time, right place’ moment. I had been teaching ESOL at a Technical and Further Education College in Queensland, when I was asked to prepare a medical English course for nurses and other healthcare professionals.

My boss knew I had a background in Nursing and thought I could ‘get something together’, as he said. I was also asked to help out in the college’s Nursing course. There were increasing numbers of international students arriving to do their Nursing diplomas and degrees, without language support. I had been directed to the medical English resources of the college and found a drawer full of very outdated and not very useful resources. I talked about it to a friend, Patricia McGarr and we decided to write our own book.

By sheer coincidence, Cambridge University Press was looking for writers for their new ‘English for..’ series. I was very pleased to have been able to get into writing medical English books, as I had seen first-hand how difficult it is to study and work in a specialised area like healthcare. I felt that my background as a nurse would be useful in teaching English for Medical Purposes.

  1. How many have you written now and are there any you are particularly proud of?

I am not sure that I could count them all! I have written books for nurses, doctors and nursing assistants; at various levels. I have also written books for smaller ‘markets’, for example, for rehabilitation specialists such as physios, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists.

I write books to help healthcare professionals prepare for the Occupational English Test Writing and Speaking sub-tests. These are all self-published. As I mentioned before, my first books were co-authored with Patricia McGarr and published by Cambridge University Press. I am particularly proud of the ‘Cambridge English for Nursing’ books at Upper Intermediate and Pre-Intermediate Levels, because they arose out of real situations. I developed the dialogues from my own experience as a nurse. I also wrote an English for Nursing book for Cengage a few years ago which was, unfortunately, never published. It was aimed at A1 to A2 Level, an area which is often neglected.

In PART II we will discuss what the main challenges are for doctors, nurses and carers who are taking these courses.