Promoting physician-patient language concordance in undergraduate medical education: a peer assisted learning approach

Sawsan Ismaiel, Dana AlGhafari, Halah Ibrahim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Verbal communication plays an important role in the patient-physician relationship. Research shows that language concordance, when a healthcare professional communicates fluently in the patient’s preferred language, contributes to patient satisfaction and improves healthcare outcomes. Yet, many medical schools worldwide, including most institutions in the Arab world, use English as the language of instruction. As a result, students lack confidence and feel unprepared to communicate effectively with the local population. This manuscript describes the development, implementation and early perceptions of an Arabic language program for medical students in the United Arab Emirates. Methods: In 2020, the learning communities at Khalifa University College of Medicine and Health Sciences launched a pilot program implementing a Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) framework to teach Arabic medical terminology and language to both native and non-native Arabic speaking medical students. A web-based survey was administered to the first two cohorts of students to assess satisfaction with the classes and the program’s impact on students’ communication skills during clinical encounters. Results: Early perceptions of the program were very positive, with 43/48 students (89.6%) reporting that they used the information during home visits and clinical rotations, and 42 students (87.5%) admitting that the classes made them feel more comfortable in communicating with the Arabic speaking local patient population. Conclusion: This paper explores a new educational approach to address the challenge of language barriers in healthcare. A feasible, low cost program using peer assisted learning can improve students’ comfort in communicating with patients in the local language.

Original languageBritish English
Article number1
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Arabic language
  • Foreign language
  • Language barriers
  • Learning communities
  • Limited English proficiency
  • Medical students
  • Medical terminology
  • Peer Assisted Learning (PAL)


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