How to Visit a Doctor While Studying Abroad

Nobody likes to be sick and it can be especially stressful when you are away from home. Whether you are finding a doctor or arriving for the first time in the exam room, being ill in a new place can be confusing and overwhelming, especially when you are still learning, or planning to learn, English. It’s helpful to know what to do before you get sick to avoid the added frustration of having to figure it out when you aren’t feeling your best.


Finding a Doctor

doctor office
Don't be afraid to ask your classmates or school for recommendations

Ask people you know for recommendations! Friends and classmates are good resources. If you are a student in a school, the reception staff should have lists of clinics and/or hospitals that you can visit. The school is the best resource and should be able to answer any questions. If you are feeling confident enough in your English, go ahead and give the doctor’s office a call and book your appointment. The receptionist at the doctor’s office should be able to tell you what time the office is open and whether you will have to provide a co-pay. You may be asked what is wrong over the phone before you come in. Be prepared to give a brief description of your symptoms.


Arriving at the Office

doctor waiting room
Utilize your waiting time to practice your english

When you arrive, check in at the front desk. You will be asked your name and will probably be instructed to sit and wait. The length of your wait will vary depending on what time of day it is and how many other patients are ahead of you. Doctors are very busy, and previous appointments can run late. Bring a book or something to do just incase. This can be a good time to read authentic English materials because doctors’ offices have lots of magazines in the waiting room. Be patient and listen for your name to be called.


Describing Your Symptoms

doctor illness
It's easier to get treatment when you know how to describe your sickness.


In order for the doctor to help relieve your sickness, it is important that you are able to express what your symptoms are. Once in the exam room, you will be asked to describe exactly how you feel. Here are some examples of symptoms to help get you started:

Headache – pain in your head (head + ache. Ache rhymes with "take" and is a way to describe pain)

Fever- temperature above normal (for most people this is 37° C /98.6° F)

Runny nose – when liquid comes out of your nose

Earache – pain in the ear (ear + ache)

Sore throat – pain in your throat (ache or itch)

Body aches/muscle aches – pain or soreness all over your body or in a specific location

Chills – the feeling of being cold even if it's not actually cold around you

Upset stomach, stomachache – pain or discomfort in the abdomen or digestive system

If the doctor says, "What’s wrong?", you might respond:

I have a headache and an upset stomach.


Communicating with the Doctor

doctor communication
Communication with the doctor is key. Study these terms before you go in.

The doctor or nurse will also ask you how long you have had the symptoms or when they started. Your response will vary depending on your condition, but it is best to be as precise as possible so the doctor can figure out the right treatment. Be prepared to answer the following questions:

Doctor: How long have you been sick?

Possible responses:

I’ve been sick for 1 week.

I haven’t been feeling well for 4 days.

It’s been about 10 hours


Treating your Illness

The doctor may prescribe some medicine or give you advice on how to care for yourself. Remember to ask questions. Many doctors’ offices have bilingual staff members available to help translate certain languages. So if you are unsure how to express yourself, don’t worry!


This week's blog post was brought to you by one of our Kaplan teachers, Caroline Lang. Caroline teaches at the Boston Harvard Square school. If you are interested in more content provided by Kaplan staff, check out our Meet our Academic Team series with monthly grammar lessons.

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