My Journey to Teaching Pharmacy English

Mark Rebuck, Meijo University

In this edition of Showcase, Mark Rebuck shares his journey that led him to teaching English for medical purposes (EMP) here in Japan and his plans to facilitate improvements in the teaching of English for Japan’s future medication-use experts.

My Journey to Teaching Pharmacy English

Mark Rebuck

Last year, it was a sushi chef; now, it’s a doctor. That’s Eugene, aged eight, on what he wants to be when he grows up. He’s already adept at administering subcutaneous injections to his younger sister (a rare chromosomal abnormality necessitates them), so perhaps he will end up in medicine. Eugene’s father (this writer) began teaching English because he didn’t really know what he wanted to be. My wife admonishes my blaming “the system,” but I feel my future was to some extent decided when I was streamed into the lowest maths level upon entering comprehensive school at 12. 

In that “dunce’s class” we were expected to fail, and fail I did (for those familiar with the English exam system of yesteryear, I was awarded a CSE grade 5). Yet in other subjects, I excelled, particularly in biology, achieving an A at “A” Level. Despite my love of biology, while at school I did not even contemplate studying medicine, since a reasonable exam result in maths was a prerequisite to enter that and most other university courses. It was after leaving school that I realized medicine would have been my dream career and in my late 20s—after I had started English teaching—I thought seriously about conquering maths and applying for medical school as a mature student.  

It was the passage of time, a few traumatic life experiences, and attending my first JALT conference, amongst other things, that changed me—through a convoluted mental process that would take hours in the psychiatrist’s chair to untangle—from a reluctant English teacher into someone resigned to his ELT fate, and, finally, into a forty-something pretty well fulfilled by what he does. In 2013, I was fortunate enough to get a permanent position in the Faculty of Pharmacy at Meijo University in Nagoya. Having graduated with a degree in physical education, something that had hitherto been an embarrassment to me, turned out to be a factor in passing the interview (Birmingham University’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences admitted me without maths). 

I now teach through English medical-related content that is for me intensely interesting and for some topics, as fate would have it, personally relevant. To do this job properly entails becoming somewhat of an expert on the topics you teach and the field in general. So, while I never became a doctor, I am definitely learning about medicine, as well as educating future healthcare professionals. When I taught EGP (English for general purposes), it was often the case that the topics, say “fashion” or “my family,” were just vehicles or wrapping for language work (introducing vocabulary, grammar items, functions, and so on). In contrast, now the content—whether it be diabetes, drug compliance, or the mechanism of action of a new hepatitis C medicine—is paramount.

Or at least I think that it should be. The truth is that in my faculty and most probably in others around Japan, creating an English language curriculum appropriate for pharmacy students’ needs is a work in progress. For pharmacy students, the ultimate return from a many-million-yen investment in an extremely demanding six-year pharmacy course is obtaining their pharmacy licence. Without this, graduates cannot work as pharmacists. It is perhaps not surprising then that English is perceived by many students as less important than subjects such as pharmacology and pharmacotherapy, essential for passing the national examination for pharmacists. Research I conducted soon after entering the pharmacy faculty indicated that linking the content of English classes to that of such specialist courses could increase student engagement in English classes.

 Emerging from this research was an approach to teaching pharmacy English, encapsulated by the acronym PHARM—practical, homed-in, authentic, relevant, and motivational. These elements are expanded upon in a recent article (Rebuck, 2015). Finally, I am planning to organize a symposium or forum where teachers can share ideas and come up with concrete suggestions to improve English education for Japan’s future medication-use experts. It would be great to hear from anyone interested in participating in such an event. 



Rebuck, M. (2015). Why’s the wrong textbook open? Exploring and reducing off-task behavior in an English for pharmacy class. Meijo Bulletin of Humanities, 51(1), 15-35.

Mark Rebuck has taught English in London (the city of his birth), Korea, and Japan. He holds an MA in Japanese Studies from Sheffield University and an MA in TEFL from Birmingham University. His areas of interest include materials development using authentic resources, particularly in the field of medical English. Mark Rebuck can be contacted at

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