Recent arrivals practise their Swedish at the medics’ language café

“How are you, what seems to be the problem?” asks Ahmed, who is playing Doctor Ali.
“Well, I have had a stomach ache for a few days”, says 26 year-old Sadeq who is playing the patient, 50 year-old Bengt.
“Can you describe your symptoms?” asks Ahmed/Doctor Ali, and Sadeq/Bengt explains about pain, nausea and vomiting.


At Locus Medicus in Malmö. Sadeq al-Ghaffari from Irak with a red jacket, and Ahmad Shah Haidar from Bulgaria, Kaisser Sahal Aljaber from Irak, Aisha Shekesse Shekahmed from Somalia and the retired medical professors Göran Lundborg and Lars Ekerot.

The scene is being played out at the Medical Association’s meeting point, Locus Medicus, a former chapel in the hospital quarter in Malmö. Since the spring, it has been the venue of a language café for people with a medical background who have recently arrived in Sweden.

“Most of them have applied for asylum but have not yet been granted a residence permit. Therefore, they are not allowed to attend the usual Swedish classes for immigrants, but have managed to learn a great deal of Swedish nevertheless. What they now need most, for a new life here, is a new ‘professional language’”, says Göran Lundborg. He is a retired hand surgeon and the person behind the initiative for the meetings.

Motivation is clearly high among the participants. They all really want to learn to speak Swedish well so as to be able to work in public healthcare.

“There are many language cafés in Malmö, but this one is especially good because it focuses on medical Swedish. That way, we can maintain our medical knowledge while learning what we need to know to work in Sweden”, says Kaisser Salah Aljaber.

He is a gastrointestinal surgeon from Iraq who arrived in Sweden last autumn. His wife and child are still in Iraq and Kaisser is waiting anxiously for news about his residence permit and the possibility of getting his family here.

“The trip here was very difficult and dangerous. The boat between Turkey and Greece sank and six of the passengers died. So I am glad they didn’t come with me on the journey, but of course now I miss them very much!” he says.

Sadeq al-Ghaffari is also from Iraq. He managed to complete his residency training in his home country before fleeing, and hopes to become a general practitioner in Sweden. Ahmad Shah Haidar was born in Afghanistan but grew up in Bulgaria, where he worked as an orthopaedic physician.

The only woman in the group at the time LUM visited was Aisha Shekesse Shekahmed, from Somalia.

“I am a general practitioner but I worked in maternity care where I performed many Caesarean sections. Emergency Caesareans are quite common in my country as women often give birth at home. If there are complications, it can be too late for a vaginal birth”, she says.

At the meetings in Malmö, the participants usually start by discussing some current medical topic from the medical journal Läkartidningen or from the daily press. Then the discussion turns to medical terms and expressions from a list compiled by Göran Lundborg, and finally, a patient case is addressed, such as that of 50 year-old Bengt and his stomach problems.

The topic of the day is osteoporosis, which has been featured in Läkartidningen.

“It must be common here since Sweden doesn’t get much sun in the winter” reflects Sadeq.

Aisha has already started taking vitamin D tablets to compensate for the lack of sun.

“In Somalia it is always sunny, but women can still have a calcium deficiency. In my maternal care clinic we used to give calcium tablets to women over 45”, she explains.

The consequences of osteoporosis are then discussed in a mixture of English and Swedish.

“You get hip fractures… what are they called in Swedish … höftfrakturer?” says Sadeq.

“And sometimes you have to apply traction. We had a patient with multiple injuries and had to set up a fixation and take care of his vascular injuries”, says Kaisser in a combination of Swedish and English. He gets help with the Swedish terms from Göran Lundborg and his colleague Lars Ekerot. Malmö physician Lars-Erik Necking and Moawia XX from Syria – a medical student who fled to avoid conscription in Al Assad’s army – are also in the habit of taking part in the lively meetings.

Text: Ingela Björck

Photos: Johan Nyman