Foreign doctors must meet Danish language standards: minister

Denmark’s health minister Ellen Trane Nørby is to table a bill which would require regional health authorities to ensure Danish language competency when hiring foreign doctors.

Foreign doctors must meet Danish language standards: minister
File photo: Lars Helsinghof Bæk/Ritzau Scanpix

Health authorities in Denmark’s five administrative healthcare regions would be responsible for ensuring employed foreign nationals, including EU citizens, have appropriate language skills, the Ministry of Health wrote in a press statement.

“There must be no doubt that foreign doctors must speak Danish,” Minister of Health Ellen Trane Nørby said in a press statement released on Monday.

“Patients must be able to understand their doctor, the doctor must understand the patient, and the doctor must be able to communicate clearly with colleagues,” Nørby added.

Stricter demands should be placed on the level of Danish proficiency of doctors from other EU countries due to a number of instances of medics having been hired without being about to speak sufficient Danish, according to the ministry press release.

Under current rules, doctors from non-EU countries are required to pass the Prøve i dansk 3 (Danish Level 3) examination used by national language centres in order to be eligible for authorisation to practice medicine in Denmark. No language requirement laws apply to doctors from EU countries.

Citizens of EU countries do not normally need to fulfil language requirements to be permitted to work in Denmark.

“We have many excellent foreign doctors in Denmark. But, unfortunately, we also have some doctors who quite simply have not mastered the Danish language well enough,” Nørby said.

“Although the rules are clear, we can see that regions do not take sufficient responsibility for making sure doctors have the correct language proficiency,” she added.

The bill, which will be submitted for the initial reading stage, will place “the responsibility of employers in black and white in the healthcare law,” the minister said.

Language tests and other methods for ascertaining the language skills of medical professionals will be allowed under the reinforced rules.

Should doctors’ Danish proficiency not be deemed good enough, they should either not be hired or let go after a trial period, Nørby said, adding that “language is competency which is just as important as the medical side.”

The rules provided for by the bill would apply to doctors qualified in both EU and non-EU countries, the ministry press message states. 

On Monday, the Danish Medical Association (Lægeforeningen, DMA) called for doctors qualified in EU countries to pass Danish language tests before being hired in Denmark.

“The same language requirements should be apply to doctors from EU countries as those applied to doctors from all other countries,” DMA’s chairperson Andreas Rudkjøbing told DR Nyheder.

READ ALSO: Denmark introduces interpreter charge at hospitals


Why mastering English isn’t all good news for Danish workers and their companies

While learning English is clearly an advantage for Danish workers, mastering the language of Shakespeare isn't enough for companies that export to Germany.

Why mastering English isn't all good news for Danish workers and their companies
English language skills don’t cut it for Danish companies hoping to export to Germany. Photo: Maheshkumar Painam / Unsplash

The Danish business community is facing a major language problem – and it’s not with English.

According to Dansk Industri (DI), an organisation representing approximately 18,500 companies across Denmark, Danish companies are experiencing a shortage of employees with good German skills.

As more Danes opt to master English, fewer are mastering the German language than in the past. This is making it more difficult, DI said, to trade with companies in Germany. 

Although Danes are considered to be the best in the world at speaking English as a second language, DI Deputy Director Mette Fjord Sørensen said speaking English when doing business in Germany isn’t always an option.

“Germany is a big country and not everyone speaks English at a high level, so misunderstandings can occur that could have consequences for a business deal,” Sørensen told The Local. “Speaking in someone’s native tongue, in this case German, can have a positive effect.”

DI said that German skills are in “extremely high demand” in a wide range of professions, from trade graduates to engineers and craftsmen. 

“Our companies demand employees with dual competencies – for example the engineer or electrician who also knows German,” Sørensen said, adding that DI is worried as they see fewer and fewer students choose to study German. 

An analysis by SMV Denmark, an organisation representing small and medium-sized companies in Denmark, shows that the number of high school students graduating German at A-level fell from 11 percent in 2005 to less than 6 percent last year. Additionally, the number of students admitted to a higher German education last year was 30 percent lower than in 2010, according to Avisen Danmark

Sørensen thinks the long term solution is to expand German language studies within Denmark’s education system, but there are several solutions available in the meantime.

This includes language courses for working professionals, specific to the work they do. 

“German expats in Denmark could also play a vital role in the need for German language competence,” Sørensen said. “We have to dig into the possibilities expats can contribute.”