Each year we see an increasing number of overseas doctors applying to secure a licence to work in the UK.
We know working in a new country, often with a completely different healthcare system, language and culture can be a challenge for doctors.
We run workshops, Welcome to UK Practice, which support doctors in making the transition to working here. The sessions, which are free, cover common ethical scenarios doctors are likely to encounter and provide the opportunity to meet other doctors, to ask questions and discuss experiences.
Dr Sutapa Biswas is a Consultant Neurophysiologist at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. She moved from Calcutta more than 15 years ago and here she talks about the challenges she faced and how the Welcome to UK Practice sessions could help doctors in her position.
Long before my British Airways flight to London from Calcutta took off in April 2003, I had known this was a journey where there was no looking back. I would not return to India again.
I had grown up imagining the UK as portrayed in novels by Agatha Christie and Victoria Holt but my dreams of a hopeless romantic were in for a shock. The fictional Miss Marple might have said “queer” to mean strange, but I soon learned that in modern Britain that word had taken on a different meaning.
I arrived alone in London, in an oversized purple coat on a drizzly spring morning. The weather brightened and my hopes of a life in UK soared; the purple coat (once lovingly chosen for its bright colour) became a tad unnecessary and eventually landed up (oversized as it was, I lost some more weight in London) in a charity shop.
Being fiercely independent, the idea of making a life for myself never bothered me.
Unfortunately, the London sunshine, like my high hopes, was short-lived.
Finding a job became difficult as was keeping up with having to be polite – saying “thank you” and “please” were non-existent in my culture.
In the first few weeks, whilst trying to cook some semblance of a meal in the squalid kitchen in East Ham, avoiding the water dripping from the bathroom overhead, I started to wonder if I could ever live the high life that was always featured in the Bollywood movies shot in the UK. Maybe I should have watched more of the depressing, dull, grey English stuff. I also realised I couldn’t even cook a proper meal and, again, I had to learn fast to survive!
Without any family or friends in the UK, the winters became particularly dreary. I struggled to connect with my fellow Indians, who most of the time thought there must be something wrong with me for living alone without a husband (that impression hasn’t changed much after all these years). Or they were full of discouraging, unnecessary advice, which left me feeling even more depressed.
Unfortunately, as I adapted and learnt to communicate better the buck did not stop at work only, it came up at exams too.
I recently attended the “Welcome to UK Practice” programme organised by the GMC. As each young doctor walked in through the door, I tried to imagine their lives, what decisions they were making and what their feelings were. Most of them seemed happy and I felt they were far better equipped or mature than I had been when I arrived in London. I did wish I had been able to attend a session at the GMC when I started working here to bring home the harsh reality of the importance of confidentiality and probity sooner than later. Medical and social issues used to be discussed openly at ward rounds in India and with the family, it didn’t matter very much who was listening but in the UK maintaining patient’s confidentiality is paramount.
The GMC of course wants to protect patients, but it also has a role to protect doctors, making them aware very early on, of probity and complaints and the values of dignity and confidentiality.
Desperation and the agony of waiting for six months for a job – the dwindling money that my dad had scraped together for me to see me through until I secured a job – had propelled me to take up locum work. But the experience had not been good. My advice to the new doctors would be to only take up locum work if you feel absolutely confident! If there is no local induction, please document this clearly in your logbook/portfolio. Finally, just remember that you may have to work night-shifts unsupervised. Although this should not be the case, my experience had been different many years ago in a small district general hospital. If you are not comfortable with that raise it as a concern, or don’t commit to it.
My first job contract saw me straight into a night-shift on the very first day, in a new environment, with practically no induction and I found that quite challenging. For people who are used to the system then being in the senior house officer rotation, it would have been fine, but, as a new doctor in the UK, hardly used to the system, it was a struggle. Thankfully and hopefully things have changed for the better.
Life is unpredictable in many ways, but, if you have a goal in mind, whether that is to stay here or to go back, try to fulfill that rather than being forced to live a life that you may not enjoy and that will only lead to a miserable existence. I do not regret my decision despite the difficulties and the numerous ways my name gets distorted. By the way, and just to be clear, I did find a husband eventually, although it took a while.
To book on a Welcome to UK Practice Session visit the booking page.