A needs analysis for communication by pharmacists in a multilingual setting: First steps towards syllabus and materials design

  • Kris van de Poel University of Antwerp and North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus
  • Tobie van Dyk North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus
  • Jessica Gasiorek University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus
  • Inge GE Blockmans Ghent University and KU Leuven
Keywords: needs analysis, healthcare, professional communication, communication training


Despite the efforts to manage South Africa’s language and culture diversity, in practice, the linguistic landscape has become increasingly English. This is problematic in contexts such as rural areas where people are not able to communicate in English, and communication on even a fairly proficient level is not a given. Medical contexts, in particular, may create critical situations of practical (life or death) importance, as healthcare professionals are not necessarily trained or equipped to communicate in an efficient and culturally sensitive manner. Moreover, healthcare communication challenges are manifold because of the diverse views on the nature of a medical encounter. This article reports on the first empirical steps taken to bridge the communication gap between patient and medical practitioner (specifically pharmacists). These steps include identifying an appropriate theoretical framework, developing and conducting a needs analysis (among 255 pharmacists who are experts-by-experience), and designing a syllabus and course materials. The findings show that most respondents experience communication in a foreign language to be significantly more problematic than communication in general. Additionally, the qualitative data suggest that support is needed especially for African languages. Language learning materials should cover a wide range of professional topics supplemented with a communication module focusing primarily on history taking and ensuring the correct use of medication. Most importantly, learning materials should be to-the-point and easy to apply, as most practitioners have limited time. These findings might, in turn, inform policy issues regarding responsible and efficient functioning in a multilingual professional environment, where clear and transparent communication can be a matter of life or death.


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