Going to the doctor in France (with useful vocabulary)

Going to the doctor in France (with useful vocabulary)

by Audrey Sivadier

Updated November 9, 2022

Going to see the doctor is one of the most feared moments when you are abroad. It can be difficult to express what you feel in your mother tongue, nevermind trying to do it in another language! The only solution is to prepare yourself and learn these few French phrases, which could prove useful when the time comes!

French phrases to help you when you visit a doctor

Prendre un rendez-vous

There is nothing gallant about « prendre un rendez-vous » with the doctor! A ” rendez-vous ” in French only means ” an appointment “. 

To get an appointment with the doctor, you can call the doctor’s office and the secretary will suggest a date and time.

Dial the telephone number and try these French phrases:

  • Allô ? Oui, bonjour, je souhaiterais prendre rendez-vous avec le docteur Knock, s’il vous plaît. – Hello? Yes, hello, I would like to make an appointment with Dr Knock, please.
  • Oui, j’ai de la place demain à 14h30, ça vous va ? – Yes, I have room tomorrow at 2:30 p.m., is that ok?
  • Oui, merci, à demain. – Yes, thank you, see you tomorrow. 

The secretary will ask for your name and phone number so be prepared to spell and enumerate!

Don’t like talking on the phone? Then you can download an extremely handy app for free: Doctolib. It’s easy to use and it’s THE solution that many French people use to check the availability of doctors in their area.

La consultation 

When you arrive at the doctor’s surgery, you must check in with the medical secretary, who will tell you to go and wait in « la salle d’attente ” (waiting room).  The doctor will come and pick you up, and the consultation will begin with a description of your symptoms. This is the most complicated part, but you can prepare for it in advance by locating your pain. The expression “ j’ai mal ” (I am in pain) works well, but you need to know the gender of body parts and how to associate them:

  • J’ai mal à la tête, à la main, à la poitrine, à la cheville…
  • J’ai mal à l’oreille, à l’épaule, à l’œil, à l’estomac…
  • J’ai mal au nez, au genou, au pied…
  • J’ai mal aux yeux, aux oreilles, aux épaules, aux pieds…
diagram showing the names of the body parts in French

Other possible symptoms:

  • Je tousse – I have a cough
  • J’ai de la fièvre – I have a fever
  • Je suis malade – I am sick/ill
  • Je suis constipé – I am constipated. Beware Spanish speakers, this symptom can be confusing! “Constipaté” does not mean “constipado”! It means that our intestines are blocked!

You can specify to the doctor:

– The duration: depuis 3 jours, depuis hier… – for 3 days, since yesterday…

– The intensity of the pain: j’ai très mal, j’ai un peu mal… – I’m in a lot of pain, I’m in a bit of pain…

In France, the doctor will always take the time to examine you. You will probably have to undress for this. So to avoid embarrassing situations, don’t hesitate to ask him/her what clothes he/she wants you to take off, so that you don’t end up in your underwear for a simple headache!

The doctor will then make “un diagnostic” (a diagnosis): 

  • Vous avez un rhume / la grippe / une gastro… – You have a cold / the flu / a gastro…
  • Votre cheville est cassée / foulée. – Your ankle is broken / sprained.

He will then suggest « un traitement » – a treatment.

L’ordonnance / La prescription

Thanks to technological advances, all doctors are now equipped with a computer and a printer. It used to be almost impossible to read their prescriptions – also known as ” ordonnances ” – because doctors are known to write badly.

On this sheet of paper, you will find « les médicaments » (the medicines) to be taken to « guérir » (heal). The name of the prescribed molecule will be written, then the dosage (la posologie) will be specified, for example :

– PARACÉTAMOL, un comprimé toutes les 6 heures pendant 7 jours. – One tablet every 6 hours for 7 days.

You can see a example on the website of ameli.fr, the French national health insurance.

The ultimate moving abroad checklist!

The carte vitale / Payment

When you get your prescription, the doctor will ask you for your carte vitale. If you work in France, or if you have a stable situation in the country, you can ask for a social security number, and this will appear on your carte vitale. 

This card is very useful because it allows you to be reimbursed for medical expenses by your health insurance (usually linked to your work). In addition, you can join “une mutuelle” (an insurance company), which will enable you to be reimbursed in full for most common medical expenses.

After the “carte vitale”, you’ll need to take out your debit card! Yes, in France, you have to give an advance of the cost of the consultation. For a general practitioner, a consultation can cost around 30€. For specialists, it can be double or even triple. At the hospital, you won’t need to pay the fees in advance, they are paid directly. If you’re European, consider applying for the European Health Insurance Card.

If you don’t have a carte vitale, the doctor will fill out « une feuille de soins » (a “care sheet”) for you. Make sure that you keep all these documents, as the social security of your country might be able to reimburse these costs for you.

French songs on this topic

In France, an expression says: ” la musique adoucit les moeurs ” (music softens moods). So to soften this blog, here are some songs that deal with the subject:

– 1973 : Serge Lama : Je suis malade a sad but beautiful song about love depression.

– 1975: Gaston Ouvrard: a very funny song where the humorist describes a very long list of symptoms. Je ne suis pas bien portant

– 2005: Camille: Ta douleur, a song made with all the sounds of the singer’s mouth.

– 2013: Stromae: a rather dark song about cancer Quand c’est ?, which plays on the sounds of the words cancer/quand c’est.

That’s it, are you feeling better now? 

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