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It was great to see that our recent blog post about OET materials is among the most read posts we have ever written. We have therefore decided to begin a new series of posts about OET resources which updates that initial post. We are starting today with a review of a new book aimed at doctors who want to improve their writing and prepare for the OET Medicine writing sub-test.

2020: a good year for OET materials

2020 will be remembered with mixed feelings by many preparing for the OET. New ways of taking the test have been developed, but test availability itself has also been an issue. On a more positive note, a number of skills-based preparation courses have appeared, including Express Publishing’s OET Skills Builder, which are reviewed elsewhere on the CELT blog. OET itself is keen to promote the importance of improving healthcare related language skills rather than candidates repeatedly doing practice tests as their main focus when preparing for the test. So, how does Dear Doctor, published in 2019 fit into the OET materials landscape, and is it recommended?

About Dear Doctor

The Dear Doctor author team is made up of Norman Whitby, an experienced materials writer and teacher of medical English, and Dr. Stephen Nickless, a retired doctor and medical English teacher. This is a strength which mirrors the best practice encouraged by OET itself. The book is designed for self-study but is also suitable for classroom use. It was pleasing to see that the materials were originally written for use by a group of refugee doctors in London and that half of the profits from the book are to be donated to the Refugee Council.

The blurb on the book’s back cover states that Dear Doctor is a course for doctors and other healthcare professionals who need to write clearly and concisely in English. As such, the book meets the needs of doctors who need to develop their letter writing skills or to enter notes into electronic clinical records. It is also clearly of interest to anyone preparing for the Medicine version of the OET, and this is likely to be Dear Doctor’s main market. This perhaps explains some of the choices made in Dear Doctor: letters are often written for the attention of consultants identified as Mr or Ms Surname, whereas in the OET this British convention is not used. Likewise, some of the tasks do not exactly match those found in the OET exam, though the practice they offer is itself of value and clearly meets the needs of medics who are not taking the test itself. This is fine, but a note indicating which letters would not be encountered in an OET writing sub-test would have been useful for those readers whose primary interest is passing OET.

Good not just for OET writing preparation

The book is divided into 12 units, each of which follows the same format. Each unit begins with a set of case notes and a writing task and this alone will make the book popular with OET Medicine candidates and teachers who are looking for writing test materials and who have exhausted the supply of official OET practice tests available on the Internet.  One of its strengths is that Dear Doctor goes a long way beyond providing exam practice; besides the case notes and related task, each unit is divided into three main areas. Writing Skills provides exercises on selecting and organising content plus other areas such as first and final paragraphs and linking words; Language Work develops the much needed medical language skills which OET sees as the key to exam success, including vocabulary and grammar points like affixation, articles and passive forms; Writing Clinic focuses on remedial language and common errors plus the very useful skill of proof reading. Model letters are provided for each task at the back of the book along with an answer key, two useful appendices and a formulary, in which some of the conventional features of doctor-to-doctor written correspondence is explained.

In their introduction, the authors state that Dear Doctor is suitable for students with a minimum writing grade of a C in OET and that the course aims to take users to the point where they will achieve a grade A or B in the written component of the OET examination. This seems a very ambitious claim but is one I have not been able to verify by working with a student through the book. Norman has told me in private correspondence that Dear Doctor contains XXX hours of learning: with the 150-200 hours of guided learning recommended by Cambridge Assessment for a level change from B1 to B2 and a further 200 hours from B2 to C1, students are likely to need rather more to move from B1 to C1 and obtain an OET B writing sub-score. Anecdotally, I found the complexity of some of the case notes themselves greater than that found in genuine OET tasks and some of the metalanguage in the book a little wordy and highly graded.

Dear Doctor is presented in A4 format and it is here that the self-publishing nature of the book becomes evident. The bright blue of the cover is the only colour in this otherwise black, white and greyscale book. Furthermore, the Language Work section of each unit is not explicitly indicated, making it hard for the reader to find sub-sections easily in each unit. This all makes for a rather text heavy appearance but at just £15.00 on Amazon (or just over half price for a Kindle edition), Dear Doctor is also much cheaper than most other traditionally published OET books of a similar length.


Overall, Dear Doctor is a welcome addition to the range of preparation materials for the OET test and certainly meets the needs of doctors preparing for the OET or wanting to improve their written communication. I was pleased to find out that Dear Doctor was nominated for a 2020 ELTon and while it didn’t win, Dear Doctor definitely meets the needs of its intended users. Hopefully the ELTon nomination may lead to a second edition or a follow-up title in which some of the points raised here can be addressed.

If you are interested in finding out more about OET writing preparation with us (we are a Premium Provider or Medicine and Nursing) or as a teacher of OET, why not get in touch. We are always happy to hear from you.

Published 2019 Published independently, available on Amazon

119 pages; 15.00 GBP for print book; £7.70 for Kindle edition

ISBN-10:  1-70064708-5

ISBN-13:  978-1700647085

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