Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 464–466 | Cite as

Departing from Doctor-Speak: a Perspective on Code-Switching in the Medical Setting

  • Nathan I. WoodEmail author


“Code-switching”—the mixing of languages, dialects, tones, or lexicons within a single conversation—is a prevalent linguistic phenomenon that has been described thoroughly in the social science literature. However, it is relatively unknown to the medical community despite its clear implications for clinicians as they navigate their role in the physician-patient relationship. As multilingualism and other forms of mixed speech become increasingly common in the urban and globally minded populations of America’s modern cities, physicians must be cognizant of how they use their language skills—such as code-switching—to communicate with their patients in an ethical, supportive, and non-offensive manner. Multidisciplinary literature, case studies, and thought experiments on the subject provide an actionable framework by which health professionals can work toward achieving this goal of cultural competence.


communication cultural competency doctor-patient relationships patient centered care social science 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he does not have a conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wayne State University School of MedicineDetroitUSA

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