It was with a slight feeling of trepidation that I boarded a plane from Heathrow to Belgrade to attend this year’s English for Healthcare conference. I knew that numbers were going to be smaller than usual. Post-Covid (can we say that yet?) participation at other conferences has been down across the board, and I had heard of confirmed participants dropping out at the last minute thanks to cancelled flights or universities refusing funding. A couple of old friends weren’t going to be there for different reasons.
However, I needn’t have worried. Numbers were small at around 50 participants, but this allowed for an intimate, convivial atmosphere to develop where one could speak easily with many of the participants – at the talks, over coffee, the excellent lunches, and then the OET wine reception and conference dinner. There were plenty of familiar faces from past events and some really interesting new ones too. A strong university representation as ever, but also others from language schools and OET.
The conference started with an excellent, thought-provoking plenary from Kevin Harvey on the stigmatising portrayal of dementia in much contemporary discourse – the reductive language, the images, the ‘life is over’ narratives – and how debilitating that is. Kevin showed the multi-faceted, complex nature of the condition and suggested ways that allow us to see it differently, emphasising the individuality and ‘personhood’ of someone living with dementia.
The programme that followed was varied and interesting, including presentations on research projects, classroom practice and assessment. In particular, I enjoyed Alan Simpson’s session on the medical ethics course he designed for his students in Japan, Danka Sinadinović’s research in to the impact of online teaching during Covid on her classes of 150 students (150!) she had previously taught face-to-face, and Csilla Keresztes’ presentation on the pressures faced by researchers to publish in English and the challenges they face.
Finding out more on how English for Healthcare courses in so many settings are designed and taught, and the constraints in which so many lecturers work – from large class sizes to groups of widely mixed English levels to squeezing as much out of the very limited time available – was also reflected in the talk I gave on the research SLC conducted earlier in 2022, analysing the provision of Nursing English courses to undergraduates across healthcare polytechnics in Indonesia.
Clearly there is still much to be done to improve English for Healthcare programmes in so many places in order to give students and professionals the English skills they need to study, work and engage in the rapidly internationalising world of global healthcare.
Finally, I also got to spend some time exploring the fascinating city of Belgrade – so much history! – with Bethan, Virginia and Alexia, my colleagues from SLC, who joined me in for the conference. They also agreed that the conference was a real success, reflecting the hard work of the EALTHY team and the local organisers – Danka and Irena in particular – in Belgrade. I’m already very much looking forward to the next English for Healthcare conference.