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‘It means so much to me’: Students speak of pride as Cardiff University leads way in bilingual medical education

15 June 2021

The next generation of doctors have been speaking about what it means to them to be able to study Medicine in Welsh, as more students than ever before learn in their native language.

Cardiff University held a virtual celebration on 11 June for the latest year of students to graduate having done 30% of their degree through the medium of Welsh.

This year, six students will be graduating – and those currently studying Medicine have spoken of their pride.

Second-year student Steffan Gwyn Williams, 20, from the village of Fforest near Pontarddulais, Swansea, said it was crucial both for learning and in practice.

“It means so much to me to be able to study part of my course through the medium of Welsh. It’s also amazing that Cardiff is leading the way on this front – and I feel immensely proud to be able to be a part of this relatively new venture,” he said.

“I feel it often helps my understanding of certain concepts as being able to explain the science in more than one language gives a deeper understanding – you’re going through it twice in your mind without thinking about it.

“I also think it’s incredibly important to be able to speak to patients in whichever language they feel comfortable in, as it’s their care and I want to facilitate that to the best of my ability. During my training I remember visiting a new mother on an obstetrics ward who was overjoyed to find out that we could speak in her first language.

“I was born with a visual impairment and so as a child I need to go to the optometrist for new glasses every couple of months. We were lucky that the optician we went to spoke Welsh as I was unable to speak English properly until I was about five years old. This was pure coincidence though – and I believe having more opportunities to learn parts of courses, especially in healthcare, through the medium of Welsh, would offer better access for all.”

Steffan, who hopes to specialise in paediatric medicine once he has graduated, said he hoped raising awareness of studying Medicine in Welsh would encourage other would-be students to follow suit.

Since 2015, students have received a scholarship from the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol to study a minimum of 30% of their degree in Welsh.

However, Welsh language provision and teaching is offered to all Medicine students, with two dedicated academic staff to facilitate case-based learning, assessments and placements.

Magi Tudur, 21, from Penisarwaun, Caernarfon, said being able to communicate with patients in Welsh had come into its own during the pandemic.

“Because of Covid, we have had to do our GP placements online which has involved talking to patients on video call. It was very useful to be bilingual during these sessions as some patients were first language Welsh and others first language English. Having to see patients online can be difficult so being able to speak to the patients in their first language helped a lot,” she said.

Magi, who is on the C21 north Wales programme at Bangor University, which has a partnership with Cardiff to deliver medical training in north Wales, said she hoped in the future students could do their whole degree in Welsh.

“It’s brilliant that Cardiff is leading the way on this and I’m very lucky that I am on a course where we can learn in Welsh. We have projects to do throughout our medical degree which are called SSC (Student Selected Components), and by being part of Coleg Cymraeg, I get to write up my projects in Welsh which has helped me a lot during my first two years of Medicine,” said the second-year student.

“It’s also so important to be able to communicate with patients through the medium of Welsh. Talking about health and trying to express yourself in your second language can be very difficult, and sometimes it can create an obstacle in the healthcare setting. If the first language of the patient is Welsh, it means a lot if they can communicate with their doctors in Welsh as this gives them the full and fair opportunity to express their needs and concerns.”

There are currently 71 Coleg Cymraeg students in total, a testament to the growing interest and numbers of students choosing to study through the medium of Welsh, said Sara Vaughan, Welsh development manager at the University’s School of Medicine.

“The contribution these students will make to our future healthcare system in Wales is invaluable. Studying medicine in both English and Welsh means that students can practice both languages whilst treating patients. The emphasis is on excelling through good communication and exercising in both languages gives students the means to do that. It really highlights just how important language and expression is.

“The Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol scholarship, rewarded to students studying at least 30% of their course through the medium of Welsh is a huge incentive for more students to take up the opportunity to maintain and foster their Welsh language skills and become doctors who will be able to treat patients in either Welsh or English.”

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