Last year, Egyptian paediatrician trainee Dr Mariam Mourad moved from Cairo, where she qualified, to live and work in London.
Dr Mourad appeared on the General Medical Council’s (GMC) Facebook live event in September where she was on a panel discussing sessions held by the GMC for doctors new to the UK. Now, she shares some tips and pointers to help other doctors make the transition of coming to work in the UK as smooth as possible.
Why the UK?
It would be safe to say that British education left a great impression on me. I attended an international school in the United Arab Emirates, where I grew up, then completed my International General Certificate of Secondary Education when I moved back to Egypt as a teenager. After studying in English I wondered whether I’d be able to pursue my medical training in the UK. Fast forward a few years and I am now in my first year of the Medical Training Initiative programme at St Bart’s Hospital in London.
But all international medical graduates (IMGs) in medicine know you can’t just hop on a plane with a CV and expect to land a job in the UK. My route to fulfilling my ambition of working in the UK took some careful decisions. Most doctors will need to pass the General Medical Council’s Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB assessments), pay the required professional fees and find the answers to the ’what ifs’ of moving to a new country.
I took a different route to the majority of doctors as I was successful in my application for the Medical Training Initiative (MTI) programme. The scheme allows doctors to experience training in the NHS for up to two years before returning to their home country. In 2020 when I’ll have completed the programme I plan to go back to Egypt and reapply for training posts in the UK after I have finished my membership exams. I hope I can later pursue a sub specialisation in oncology in the UK.
The process of applying, being interviewed, filling in the relevant paperwork, liaising with my employer and being able to move to the UK took more than six months. Somewhat naively, I prepared for the relocation by seeing what advice Google could give me. Unsurprisingly it did not prepare me as well as I had hoped. To help you prepare for life as a doctor in the UK I have compiled a trio of top tips.
Prepare yourself for a new culture
Preparing yourself for the unknown is easier said than done but expecting different ways of working will certainly ease the process.
The NHS is a giant that can be your best friend if you understand and speak its language, or your worst foe if you don’t.
You may, like me, find some of the differences alien at first but you soon get used to life in the UK. Adjusting to the frequent rain is taking some time, but without the rain there wouldn’t be the greenery and abundance of lush parks that are such a blessing.
Asking for help is not a weakness. In fact it is necessary to ask for help and you are encouraged to do so. Ask for help if you are unsure of something regardless of your status or level. Jeopardising a patient’s safety because you were afraid to ask for advice is not worth the risk.
Some of the culture changes I was baffled by included doctors not wearing white coats. That is indeed correct. Doctors do not have a uniform but are expected to dress smartly (denims are out!). You must be well groomed and strictly adhere to infection control policies. It took me a while, and a few shopping trips, to wrap my head around that.
Being called ’love’ by colleagues and patients is absolutely normal so don’t cringe. I have found that my name is rarely preceded by doctor, with nursing staff and paramedics often using my first name. It can be quite surprising how different teams interact with each other. And no, despite what you may have experienced in your home country, consultants will never expect you to bow for them.
And punctuality may seem like an obvious point but if you are 10 minutes early you are on time. If you arrive for work exactly on time you are already late. And, depending on what transport is like in your country of origin, you might be surprised that if your train ticket says 12.40pm then it is expected to leave exactly at that time.
Join a support network
Relocating to a new country can be lonely and for some an isolating experience. I have a few friends scattered around the UK but none in London where I currently work. Having someone you know in the UK definitely helps, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.
There are many blogs and online support groups where doctors in the same position post about their experiences and these can be a comfort to read. The pressures of work and the experiences of a doctor in training can be draining and being able to talk to other doctors in a social setting can be therapeutic. The British Medical Association has a section on its website called Connecting Doctors, which contains some useful posts about issues you may experience.
Practising in the UK is far from a bed of roses. You can’t climb the ladder of your ambitions quickly, you may face many frustrations with how long the paperwork takes, with the weather, and getting your head around the culture can be a challenge. But it’s a great opportunity that you shouldn’t pass on. There is help out there, whether it is from the GMC about registration, revalidation or guidance queries or independent support. Just don’t be afraid to ask, people want you to succeed.
Attend a GMC Welcome to UK Practice session
When I booked my ID check with the GMC I was emailed an invitation to book onto a free Welcome to UK Practice session, which take place at one of the GMC’s offices across all the UK nations.
The session focuses on ethical issues doctors are likely to come across and uses the GMC’s guidance to advise on how you should respond.
As the session was free it was a no-brainer to attend. I was already feeling intimidated about starting work in a new country and thought I’d benefit from a hint of what was likely to be in store when I started.
The session I attended in London was very interactive and realistic to the scenarios doctors might experience. It also created a great chance to network and meet people in the same situation or that have lived here longer who could share their own experiences.
The session provided plenty of food for thought. Some were experiences I expected, such as patient confidentiality and consent, but it also inspired new questions such as what to do if a patient offers you a gift as a token of thanks.
Although the workshop was predominantly attended by IMGs like myself it would be suitable to all doctors new to working in the UK, whether they graduated outside of the UK or not. It’s a safe, non-judgemental place to ask those burning questions.
You can find out more information and book a place via the GMC’s website.
If you would like to learn more about the GMC’s Welcome to UK Practice workshops and book your place on one of the upcoming sessions, please visit the GMC’s dedicated website.