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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ohio Tells Foreign-Trained Physicians: To Serve Here, Speak English

COLUMBUS (TDB) -- Last November, a tavern owner in suburban Cincinnati caved to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and took down a sign the state agency declared unlawful. Tom Ullum's sign said, "For Service, Speak English" and he was accused of engaging in discriminatory practices at his Mason bar. Now the state itself is imposing a strict new English proficiency requirement -- foreign-trained physicians who want to practice in Ohio will have to pass a legally mandated examination.

Ohio is demanding a score of at least 26 in speaking and a score of 26 in listening on the TOEFL -- the Test of English as a Foreign Language. The average scores for those portions of the test among people seeking professional licenses is around 21. Ohio is demanding that doctors who aren't native speakers be able to communicate clearly to interact with patients in this state, an action that acknowledges that English is the dominant, if not official, language.

Ullum's case is here. The State Medical Board of Ohio's proposed regulation was introduced last week and the details are here. The medical board for years has said that doctors trained outside the U.S. working in Ohio had to know some English, but the new rule is required by HB119, the state budget bill adopted last May. The measure for the first time specifies by legislative action the minimum level of achievement required:

"Sec. 4731.142. (A) Except as provided in division (B) of this section, an individual must demonstrate proficiency in spoken English, by passing an examination specified by the state medical board, to receive a certificate to practice issued under section 4731.14 of the Revised Code if the individual's eligibility for the certificate is based in part on certification from the educational commission for foreign medical graduates and fulfillment of the undergraduate requirements established by section 4731.09 of the Revised Code at an institution outside the United States. The individual may demonstrate such proficiency by obtaining a score of forty or higher on the test of spoken English conducted by the educational testing service. The board shall adopt rules specifying an acceptable examination and establishing the minimum score that demonstrates proficiency in spoken English.

"(B) An individual is not required to demonstrate proficiency in spoken English in accordance with division (A) of this section if the individual was required to demonstrate such proficiency as a condition of certification from the educational commission for foreign medical graduates."


  1. great find here.

    I dont disagree that doctors who are dispensing important advice shoud be very proficient in English. But then again I am not a tolerant guy, because I saw no problem with Ullum's sign.

  2. Hi Ben --

    I think English is much more the official language in Ohio than most suspect. For example, all legal documents (deeds, mortgages, court records etc) must be in the English language, and all graduates of Ohio schools must be proficient in English.

    I don't see anything wrong with requiring a doctor who practices in Ohio to speak English both fluently and clearly. I think clearly is the new emphasis.