What language are you supposed to use with the doctor if you don’t speak Finnish or Swedish?

by , under Enrique

What happens if you don’t speak Finnish or Swedish and need to take your one-year-old baby to the doctor’s? What about if the doctor isn’t a Finn? Migrant Tales got the following email from one of our readers: 

Hi, I’ve lived in Helsinki for 3 years and would like to share a story that happened to me, my European husband and baby. I’m sharing this story with you because it was the most racist treatment my family had ever received in Finland.

On February 2013, I went to the children’s clinic because my baby was suffering from high fever. Arriving at the clinic in the morning, I was told that no doctor was available to treat my baby girl. The nurse was, however, very helpful. She took us to a room and gave medicine. The nurse recommended that we visit our local health center in [in the eastern Helsinki neighborhood of] Kontula, which she called on our behalf but there were no doctors available on that day. We were then sent to the Myllypuro health center, where we had an appointment with a doctor at 1:30pm.

We arrived to the Myllypuro health center at 1:25pm. Since it was the first time we’d been there, we didn’t know where to go. We asked a clerk at the information desk, who told us that we were in the right place. While this was happening, I  heard from afar my name but wasn’t totally sure. We took a seat and waited for our name to be called by a doctor.

At 1:40pm the doctor called my name. In a very rude manner and speaking only Finnish, which we had difficulty understanding since we don’t speak Finnish well, the doctor said he wouldn’t treat us in English. He said in English that the health center doesn’t accept patients who don’t speak Finnish.

I asked, even insisted, why he couldn’t speak English since he spoke the language fluently.  He answered back in a rude manner and we continued to argue. I told him that I wouldn’t leave until he treated my baby. The doctor then threatened to call the police if we didn’t leave. He said that we were in the wrong place since we should have gone to the Kontula health center in the first place. He also said that he couldn’t treat my baby because he didn’t have the right medial instruments. I told him that we were sent to the Myllypuro health center by a nurse and that she had made the appointment on our behalf.

I asked him why he treated another couple’s baby and not mine while we waited 20 minutes for the nurse at the Myllypuro health center to make an appointment with a doctor at the Kontula health center. I don’t understand why the doctor who wouldn’t speak English to us or treat our baby wasn’t attending any patients. Couldn’t he have checked my baby at that time?

We got an appointment with a Russian doctor at 3pm. The appointment given to us was that of an African couple, which had to wait before we were treated by the doctor. This was not fair to the African couple, I thought.

We spent the whole morning and part of the afternoon before our baby was finally treated by a doctor. Why didn’t the doctor in Myllypuro help? No compassion exists in this country!

I made a complaint to the Ombudsman explaining exactly what had happened to us.

I got a letter from them stating that I had nothing to complain about since my baby got treated. I’m not happy with the response from the Ombudsman. I may have been slightly late to the health center because I didn’t hear my name called but the treatment I got from the foreign doctor, and that he wouldn’t speak English to us, is is pure racism and discriminatory.

Please tell me what I must do.  I feel voiceless in this country, where most Finns want cover up racism at all costs.

  1. Yossie

    Well, there is no question that finnish health services would need a lot of improvement. Sure its practically free, that is, when you finally manage to get the appointment. I dont think many finns would disagree that health services are very much of hassle.

    However, this person seems to have a ridiculous sense of entitlement. The first doctor she sees have to speak be able to serve her in language she demands. Doctor obviously had problems with english and wasnt confident with it, same way as she wasnt confident understanding finnish doctor was talking. Yet, she ofcourse finds all this racist and discriminatory.

    This all reinforce the notion that racism is something when things are not going in the way immigrant/black/colored/whatever wants. When something bad happens to them, its ofcourse racism. Its ofcourse because color of my skin! Word “racism” will lose its meaning soon enough because immigrants tend to use it always when they are not getting what they want.

    Also I dont find her attitude to be particularly fair:

    “No compassion exists in this country!”

    After having helpful nurse to help them out and eventually getting her baby treated, she can say that based on experience with one doctor?

    • ct

      Well, there is no question that finnish health services would need a lot of improvement. Sure its practically free, that is, when you finally manage to get the appointment. I dont think many finns would disagree that health services are very much of hassle.

      However, this person seems to have a ridiculous sense of entitlement. The first doctor she sees have to speak be able to serve her in language she demands. Doctor obviously had problems with english and wasnt confident with it, same way as she wasnt confident understanding finnish doctor was talking. Yet, she ofcourse finds all this racist and discriminatory.

      This all reinforce the notion that racism is something when things are not going in the way immigrant/black/colored/whatever wants. When something bad happens to them, its ofcourse racism. Its ofcourse because color of my skin! Word “racism” will lose its meaning soon enough because immigrants tend to use it always when they are not getting what they want.

      Also I dont find her attitude to be particularly fair:

      “No compassion exists in this country!”

      After having helpful nurse to help them out and eventually getting her baby treated, she can say that based on experience with one doctor?

      Maybe you should read again. Didn’t find where it says he didn’t speak well the language.
      “I asked, even insisted, why he couldn’t speak English since he spoke the language fluently”

      “”Also I dont find her attitude to be particularly fair:

      “No compassion exists in this country!”

      After having helpful nurse to help them out and eventually getting her baby treated, she can say that based on experience with one doctor?””

      Maybe s/he had bad experiences already. WHo knows? So can’t say it’s because of one doctor the person refered the phrase.

    • Yossie

      “Maybe you should read again. Didn’t find where it says he didn’t speak well the language.
      “I asked, even insisted, why he couldn’t speak English since he spoke the language fluently” ”

      Was this edited? Because I could swear it didnt say he was fluent earlier…

      In any case, the doctor himself wasnt confident about giving service in english. Remarks about fluency is based on her story, how can she know how fluent the doctor is in medical vocabulary? After all, patients are in doctors responsibility and I dont think a doctor wants to risk a malpractice because of language issues.

      “Maybe s/he had bad experiences already. WHo knows? So can’t say it’s because of one doctor the person refered the phrase.”

      Maybe, but this was said straight after refering to the doctor and the case described. So you think its alright to make these kind of blanket statements?

  2. Joonas

    Did I got it right: it is racist because the doctor was not able to speak proper English and because of him (one rude doctor) “No compassion exists in this country!”? MT is really losing its’ credibility with these kind of blogs. I have to agree fully with Yossie.

    • Brave

      Joonas,
      Doctor does not need a perfect English, and also this mother does not need a perfect Finnish, so doctor could help if he want.
      MT wont losing its credibility, but opposite, will add to its credibility because the facts are inside these kind of blogs.
      These kind of blogs are from those people who felt it racism in real, and they found themselves very voiceless that’s why they write these kind of blogs.

    • ct

      And what do you think about the entry :
      “Finnish primary school books still depict foreigners stereotypically”. Just check, it was published some days ago. I don’t think MT is loosing credibility. Have you ever been a foreigner? Have you ever lived, worked in somewhere where culture is different than yours, plus a culture not used to diversity, where skin color id diferent, society has nothing to do with yours, and to complete, are you a father? If you’ll be one, one day, than you will understand what the mother went thru. I’m a parent as well as foreigner and understand it.

    • Joonas

      And what do you think about the entry :
      “Finnish primary school books still depict foreigners stereotypically”. Just check, it was published some days ago. I don’t think MT is loosing credibility.

      Check my reply 10:25 am. I mentioned MT does not publish that kind of blogs all the time and often I can even agree with them, but at least this and the previous one were just laughable stories about “racism”.

      Have you ever been a foreigner? Have you ever lived, worked in somewhere where culture is different than yours, plus a culture not used to diversity, where skin color id different, society has nothing to do with yours

      In two countries that meets your requirements. And yes, I had my share of hardship and difficulties in those countries. But to be fair, I was living only about a year in each and knew I would come back to Finland some day.

      and to complete, are you a father? If you’ll be one, one day, than you will understand what the mother went thru. I’m a parent as well as foreigner and understand it.

      No, I’m not, but I can understand the parent was upset because it too long to get treatment for her/him child. I would be pissed too. However, was it racist that the doctor was not able speak English to her/him? Is s/he entitled to generalize the whole nation based on one doctor, even all nurses were friendly?

  3. Brave

    Yossie,
    This all reinforce the notion that racism is something when things are not going in the way immigrant/black/colored/whatever wants. When something bad happens to them, its ofcourse racism. Its ofcourse because color of my skin! Word “racism” will lose its meaning soon enough because immigrants tend to use it always when they are not getting what they want.
    …………….
    Racism will lose it meaning soon? Dont be worry it wont…
    Looks like you are searching for a super and meaningful racism?
    Whats that, may i ask?

  4. Brave

    I made a complaint to the Ombudsman explaining exactly what had happened to us.

    I got a letter from them stating that I had nothing to complain about since my baby got treated. I’m not happy with the response from the Ombudsman. I may have been slightly late to the health center because I didn’t hear my name called but the treatment I got from the foreign doctor, and that he wouldn’t speak English to us, is is pure racism and discriminatory.

    Please tell me what I must do. I feel voiceless in this country, where most Finns want cover up racism at all costs.
    ………..
    Ombudsman is a Finn and s/he has no feeling about what is racism…s/he has no experience at all, so easy for them to tell sorry
    Yes you are voiceless because no/one take responsibility for our voices in Finland…. means we have no right to complain specially about racism

  5. Joonas

    Joonas,
    Doctor does not need a perfect English, and also this mother does not need a perfect Finnish, so doctor could help if he want.
    MT wont losing its credibility, but opposite, will add to its credibility because the facts are inside these kind of blogs.
    These kind of blogs are from those people who felt it racism in real, and they found themselves very voiceless that’s why they write these kind of blogs.

    If the doctor and the patient can’t not communicate properly there is a change to malpractice – the doctor might loose his permit and job. But even the doctor was rude, does it entitle her to say “No compassion exists in this country!” (even all nurses very friendly and helpful according to her) or that it was racist act?

    And yes, MT will loose it’s credibility if they publish stories and accuse them to be racist, even clearly they are not (like the story above). Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean MT does that all the time (or that there is no racism in Finland), but the last two blogs have been good examples what is eating their credibility.

  6. PS voter

    This is a good example what happens when you hire doctors from countries where people tend to have quite limited English skills. It is also a good example what can happen, if you live several years in a country without properly learning an official language and expect to get free treatment.

    If you are willing to pay, you can get a private doctor faster and have more freedom selecting doctor with a suitable language skills. Having said that, I must say that many elderly Finns have difficulties understanding the Finnish of many immigrant doctors, but you don’t hear publicly many complains about this, because complaining about it is considered to be racism and discrimination.

    An friend of mine with an immigrant background has also suspected that some of the immigrant nurses have lied about their education and/or forged their diplomas, because they seem to have so wide gaps in their knowledge and skills.

    • JusticeDemon

      This is a good example what happens when you hire doctors from countries where people tend to have quite limited English skills.

      That’s most of the world then.

      It is also a good example what can happen, if you live several years in a country without properly learning an official language and expect to get free treatment.

      The writer has lived in Finland for three years and had at least one child during this period. For all you know, she also had a full-time job.

      I must say…

      Why? Will the PS heavy mob beat you up otherwise?

      … that many elderly Finns have difficulties understanding the Finnish of many immigrant doctors, but you don’t hear publicly many complains about this, because complaining about it is considered to be racism and discrimination.

      As, indeed, it often is. One look at a black face is often enough to convince them that there must be something wrong with what they are hearing.

      Maybe those elderly Finns need to put more effort into maintaining their native language skills. If you live several years in a country without properly learning the diversity of its official languages and expect to get free treatment, that is.

      An friend of mine…

      Stop lying.

  7. JusticeDemon

    The obvious point that comes out of this story is that these services are overstretched.

    Rudeness is in the eye of the beholder, but I strongly suspect that the Myllypuro doctor was struggling to adhere to a fixed timetable of appointments and was otherwise ill-equipped to manage a case of this kind involving special customer service requirements. I also suspect that this doctor was assigned to Myllypuro in order to avoid certain language requirements. If the writer’s estimation is accurate, then it is quite possible that this doctor qualified in medicine with minimal exposure to (at least spoken) English.

    The fault here is with the staff who referred this particular patient to this particular doctor regardless of the skills mismatch, but again the alternative was no service at all.

    There is a definite public service problem here, but I don’t see how this episode can be classified as racial discrimination.

    On the other hand, the Ombudsman for Minorities is not narrowly concerned only with racial discrimination, but more generally with the welfare of minorities, including language minorities. One constructive suggestion might be to note that language can be a significant issue in patient referrals. A section on the referral form something like “asiointikieli, jollei suomi” (and the equivalent in Swedish for Swedish-speaking health districts) might help to resolve this as a practical issue.

    I suspect in this specific case that the role of language would be mainly to reassure the mother that the fever was not life-threatening, and that this could be achieved by asking one of the nursing staff to attend the examination and assist informally with communication. Otherwise busy staff need to be warned in advance when this will be necessary.

    • PS voter

      Some kind phone interpretation service might also be useful. It could also be used with Swedish language. With phone service, the interpreter wouldn’t have to travel to the location, which could save a lot of time and money in many cases.

  8. JusticeDemon

    Some kind phone interpretation service might also be useful. It could also be used with Swedish language. With phone service, the interpreter wouldn’t have to travel to the location, which could save a lot of time and money in many cases.

    You’d think that someone would have had this idea already. How can Finnish public authorities be so dumb when the answer is so obvious?

    Clearly they need more foreign consultants to show them how to arrange public services for a multilingual community.

  9. PS voter

    That’s most of the world then.

    I have better idea. Just educate enough Finnish doctors and they speak perfect Finnish and also better English than many immigrant doctors. I don’t see any good reason to try to fill basic needs of healthcare by bringing in foreign doctors here even if it is fashionable in the name of multiculturalism. However, there may be some specialist positions where it may be the best option to bring foreign specialists here.

    Why? Will the PS heavy mob beat you up otherwise?

    Very funny.

    As, indeed, it often is. One look at a black face is often enough to convince them that there must be something wrong with what they are hearing.

    No, it isn’t. Elderly people don’t hear as well anymore and they also have reduced cognitive capacity to process what they hear. Haven’t you noticed for example how many elderly persons complain that they aren’t able to understand their native language if it is spoken too fast? Younger person can process sensory information better and cope with distractions, like bad pronunciation, better than elderly person.

    Stop lying.

    Stop slandering me. If you hear something you don’t like, your knee jerk reaction is to say that I am lying. How disgusting.

    I didn’t even say that I personally suspected that some of those nurses are fake-nurses (although it is likely that there are some fake nurses, as there has been also some fake-doctors who have been caught). And my friend has relevant education and work experience to back those suspicions. And just for the record, most of those persons my friend has suspected of being some kind of fakes, have had lighter skin than my friend.

    • JusticeDemon

      Very funny.

      I was entirely serious about your fascist buddies.

      Markku Talonen – naisystävänsä pahoinpitely
      Klaus Elovaara – vaimonsa pahoinpitely
      Mikael Lith – naisystävän pahoinpitely
      Matti Putkonen – raiskaus
      Petri Nurminen – kahden alaikäisen seksuaalinen hyväksikäyttö
      Rami Sipilä – uhkaus

      Trivialising the violent mindset of many party members is a standard PS tactic.

      Elderly people don’t hear as well anymore and they also have reduced cognitive capacity to process what they hear…

      So exactly how do you blame this on immigrant doctors who have passed their language examinations, and not on a general laziness and lack of personal kielenhuolto on the part of Finnish people who can no longer understand their own language? This is precisely the standard that you require of immigrants, so why the inconsistency?

      Stop slandering me.

      You are an anonymous poster. You can neither be slandered nor libelled.

      Your imaginary “friend” is merely a literary device offering no support whatsoever to your view. This device is just an attempt to foster the illusion of personal distance from your own claim. Why not simply have the courage to assert your own claim, instead of putting words in the mouth of an imaginary “friend”?

      I have a similar friend who says that you are an outrageous serial liar anyway.

  10. PS voter

    “Maybe you should read again. Didn’t find where it says he didn’t speak well the language.“I asked, even insisted, why he couldn’t speak English since he spoke the language fluently” ”

    Was this edited? Because I could swear it didnt say he was fluent earlier…

    Previously it said: “I asked, even insisted, why he couldn’t speak English, which he didn’t speak well but tried his best. He answered back in a rude manner and we continued to argue. I told him that I wouldn’t leave until he treated my baby.”

    I wonder which version of the English language skills of the doctor is the correct one and why was that edited silently…

Leave a Reply