International pharmacy student Shirin Hui Tan with project team leader Jacqueline Bond
International pharmacy student Shirin Hui Tan with project team leader Jacqueline Bond
2 November 2011

Pharmacy students from international backgrounds are learning Australian colloquialisms — as a matter of life and death.

“Someone might tell a pharmacist they have a gut-ache, had a chunder, chucked a sickie, couldn’t eat brekkie or got bitten by mozzies,’’ said project team leader Jacqueline Bond from The University of Queensland School of Pharmacy.

“These sayings can completely bamboozle pharmacists from non-Australian backgrounds.”

The innovative language program — offered to first-year pharmacy students — was this week named as a winner in the 2011 UQ Teaching & Learning Awards.

“In a serious situation, someone might urgently seek advice from a pharmacist saying: ‘he’s cactus, he’s carked it, call the ambo!’,” said Ms Bond.

“They might hear that someone has been out raging all night, got rotten, been on the plonk, on the turps or on the grog, had a liquid lunch, and now feels rooted or stuffed. They might complain about not being able to ‘eat’ tea.*

“A patient might ask a pharmacist if something is ridgy-didge or fair dinkum, or say: ‘are you having a lend?’ They might offer to give something a burl, say a child has been screaming like a stuck pig, or that someone has gone troppo.

“Pharmacists deal with all sorts of questions – customers might ask about their old fella, their map of Tassie, whether they can buy some frangers or should see a gynie.

“They might get the wrong idea if someone said they were feeling upset because ‘the boss got up me today’.

“Pharmacists working in beachside locations might hear how someone got stung by a bluey or had a brush with a Bondi cigar.

“Someone might tell a pharmacist they don’t like injections because they are a real wuss, or don’t want a product because it is too exxy. Or something might be ‘a piece of piss’.

“If there are communication difficulties, the clients could be mad as a cut snake and accuse the pharmacist of being a drongo and having kangaroos loose in the top paddock!”

Ms Bond said the language program was developed as a multi-disciplinary collaboration between UQ academics in the fields of pharmacy, language and higher education.

“It’s vital that pharmacists have excellent communication skills when they enter the profession, to ensure that medicines are used safely and effectively,” Ms Bond said.

“For cultural or linguistic reasons, some students face challenges in using both the colloquial language required for interactions with patients, and the clinical language required for interactions with other health professionals.”

The project team comprised 10 experts from the UQ School of Pharmacy, UQ’s Institute of Continuing and TESOL Education, and the Teaching and Educational Development Institute.

“Unlike other generic language courses, students in our program develop their competence using scenarios that have been customised specifically for pharmacy, like talking to patients about medications for coughs and colds,” Ms Bond said.

“In these instances, we teach students the type of language that patients may use to communicate their symptoms, such as ‘I feel under the weather’ or ‘I’m crook’,” she said.

“In addition, we have created specific activities to ensure students learn the correct clinical language to work with pharmacists, doctors, specialists, physiotherapists and other professionals in health.”

The course was introduced in 2008 and students have since shown improved performance in oral and written exams, as well as greater engagement in their studies.

“A really important benefit is the students’ increased confidence when they complete their placements in real pharmacies, in the community,” Ms Bond said.

“From a teaching perspective, it has been very rewarding to collaborate with language and diversity specialists to deliver learning outcomes that, eventually, impact the community’s health.”

A one-minute video on the program can be viewed and downloaded here – media organisations are welcome to embed it on their websites.

* Translations of all Australian colloquialisms mentioned in this article can be found here.

Media: Jacqueline Bond, UQ School of Pharmacy, 07 3346 1982; or
Caroline Bird, UQ Communications, 07 3365 1931 or Fiona Cameron, 0407 113 342