English Health Train

English language skills for health care



program goals
unique design special features



English Health Train is a unique, innovative curriculum aimed at improving the English communication skills, career potential, and confidence level of immigrants trained as health professionals in their own country or interested in entering the health care field.

The extensive curriculum and classroom materials were designed, developed, and piloted in 2004-2006 through the San Francisco Welcome Back Center. Since then, a number of educational institutions serving this population in the U.S. have adopted all or part of the new curriculum.

About the San Francisco Welcome Back Center

As California becomes the most diverse state in the nation, one of the challenges currently facing its health sector is the lack of culturally and linguistically diverse health professionals.

The San Francisco Welcome Back Center is the lead center in California's statewide Welcome Back initiative whose mission is "to build a bridge between the pool of internationally trained health workers living in California and the need for linguistically and culturally competent health services in underserved communities." The center has developed a program model that incorporates individual case management and career counseling services, curriculum development, and group interventions to meet the needs of immigrant health professionals.

In analyzing the needs of this population, the San Francisco Welcome Back Center found that among the many obstacles these health workers face to practicing their profession in the U.S., the greatest one was language – specifically the English language proficiency needed to function successfully in health care settings.

Background on English Health Train

In 2004, the San Francisco Welcome Back Center embarked on the process of developing a highly-specialized, health-focused ESL program. The project was named English Health Train in anticipation that it would complement the Health Train project started by Community Health Works of San Francisco, a partnership of City College of San Francisco and San Francisco State University - with “health train” referring to the career ladder and steps required to reach one’s goals in health care.

The English Health Train project team was formed, made up of specialists in curriculum development, ESL, and health care. With funding from the California Endowment, the California Wellness Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente, the team was able to carry out an extensive and thorough project development process – from needs assessment to curriculum development and piloting.

The needs assessment phase revealed a significant gap between the target audience’s communication and professional needs in the U.S. and the types of ESL programs available to them. Such programs are often limited in terms of length and depth, the addressing of relevant health care issues for them, and an intgegrated focus on language development that went well beyond medical terminology. These students generally had little opportunity to apply their English language skills to their own fields of interest or to explore a variety of new professional options in health care.

These results led to the team’s decisions about the curriculum's unique design, program goals, and special features to be incorporated throughout the English Health Train materials.