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Speaking Her Patient's Language

Learning Danish isn’t easy. But for foreign doctors like Maria, intensive language training while working in a clinic has made learning Danish a surmountable barrier

Dr. Maria Perez (Spain)

Before: M.D: General Practitioner, Seville Spain
Now: General Practitioner, Grindsted Denmark

"It was so quiet,” she says, laughing. “When you go into a health center in Spain, people talk and talk – and so loudly. Here it was peaceful, actually."
That first impression stuck with Maria, who is one of the many foreign doctors who have come to Denmark in recent years. Danish Health Authority figures show that the number of foreign doctors has grown by five percent per year since 2006, in response to the country’s doctor shortage, and that about 10 percent of the nation’s practicing physicians are currently of foreign origin. For Maria, it was an interest in the Danish health care model that led her to apply for a General Practitioner job, and a desire to create a better balance between work and family life that convinced her to accept it.

But, from the beginning, there was one big barrier she knew she had to overcome. “My biggest concern before coming was definitely the language,"Maria says. "I was very worried about that."

Although she already spoke three languages fluently, Maria says she knew her success as a doctor would depend on her ability to master Danish – a language that is notoriously difficult for foreigners.

"When I started learning Danish I thought, maybe that is why the people in the clinic were so quiet. Because the language is hard to speak!", she says. "But when I started to see patients it got easier. It was frightening sometimes and also funny sometimes, but never too much of a barrier."

As part of her contract as foreign doctor, Maria started an intensive language course immediately after arriving. The programme began with five days per week at a language school, before eventually scaling down to one day at language school and 4 days on the job.

After a year in the programme, she says, her Danish is now in place and she will soon be fully authorised to work as an independent physician in Denmark.