During my formative or education years in Internal Medicine and Pulmonary Medicine in the 1960s, I had the good fortune of international exposure. While still in the Air Force, I was able to attend the International Union against Tuberculosis (IUAT) in Amsterdam courtesy of the USAF. Tuberculosis was still a global problem, especially in the developing world. It was also my first experience using headphones to pick up the translations of the various languages into one’s own language. The translators sat in glass enclosed cubicles on the side of the auditorium. It was interesting to see them rise out of their seats when speakers from behind the Iron Curtain made statements such as “Before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 there were no significant advances in medicine.”
When meeting my German Colleagues in the Ratskeller afterwards for a beer, they complained that German was not one of the languages of translation. Although most understood English and I had no difficulty in my communications around the table, many stated they had difficulty in following the scientific presentations which were translated into English, French, Spanish, and the Dutch of the host country of Dutch. It was also interesting that my Scandinavian colleagues mentioned that all their national meetings were in English. There had been various attempts to have the presentations in the language of the speaker. The speakers were from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. However, all gave their presentations in English despite these recommendations.
English has truly become the international language of medicine and science. The current international meetings have no interpreters and are given in English.
When my brother was a professor doing research in agronomy and soil physics in Lima Peru, I made a visit and attended the Pan American Chest meetings in Lima. I was given a tour of the largest chest hospital in Lima by a Thoracic Surgeon. They had 400 tuberculosis beds and 400 pulmonary beds. He presented one of his patients with a mass in the chest. They had no bronchoscope to examine the bronchi of this patient to make a tissue diagnosis. This rather important since some types of cancer are not operable. This would then prevent surgery if surgery would not be helpful. He stated that he would have to open the chest to get a biopsy and proceed with excision at the same time. At that time, all eight hospitals in Sacramento had bronchoscopes and bronchoscopies were routine.
There were no Spanish research journals or original research in lung disease in South America at that time. The ATS is now helping to change that.
The ATS is establishing postgraduate courses and International conferences in South America which should upgrade the level of pulmonary care in the Southern Hemisphere.