After graduating university, I was a little lost. I had studied radiation therapy at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. but I had hoped to experience the world a little more before finding a full-time permanent position. Working abroad was the perfect solution. After being tagged in a Facebook post from a recruitment agency looking for staff in the UK, I started packing my bags.
A year later, I’m writing this from Plymouth, a seaside town with a long maritime history on the southwest tip of the UK. Although I’m finally settled into my job working as a radiation therapist at Derriford Hospital, it wasn’t easy to get here. Here are the five biggest mistakes I made—and how you can avoid them.
1. Make sure you have the right visa and qualifications
It took me six months to get overseas. This was partially because I wasn’t sure exactly what was needed in terms of licensing and visas before I was actually cleared to work here.
Be prepared for an application process that can potentially be arduous and expensive. If you want to move to the UK, Gov.uk is where you will find your information and where you can apply. In the end, I applied for a Tier 5 Working Holiday Visa.
You’ll also need to make sure your healthcare qualifications transfer so that you’re licensed to work. In my case, I had to apply for Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration to be able to practice in the UK as a radiation therapist.
2. Decide if you’d like to work in private or public healthcare
Operating in England, Scotland and Wales, the National Health Service (NHS)—which governs public healthcare in the UK—is the fifth largest employer in the world. Translation? There are plenty of opportunities for expats. However, working in private healthcare may offer more flexible working hours and holidays, as well as higher pay in some fields.
Ultimately though, this is about preference. For Zoey Chan, a physiotherapist from Malaysia, working in public healthcare reflects her personal values. “The NHS's principle of ‘free healthcare for all’ is something that really inspired me,” says Chan.
3. Research the demand for your field of expertise
When I arrived in the UK, I was entirely inexperienced in my field. That’s why about eight months before my arrival, I contacted a recruitment agency for assistance in finding a position.
A recruitment agency finds temporary staff to work for a hospital for a fixed-term contract, usually to fill a temporarily vacant position. Since the recruitment agency is paid by the hospital for every shift you work, they’re usually eager to help you find work.
The first agency I contacted gave me the impression that the UK was desperate for trained workers in my field. What they didn’t tell me was they were looking for “Band 6” therapists; but as a newly qualified therapist, I was only an entry-level “Band 5.” (The NHS relies heavily on a band system to organize healthcare workers into levels of salary and seniority.) The agency skirted around my concerns, so I switched to an agency willing to work with entry-level therapists.
Two months after my arrival, I landed a Band 4 position in a radiotherapy department. It wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be, but it later led to a permanent Band 5 position.
While agency work is perfect for someone who is interested in moving around and has some previous experience (as staff are expected to hit the ground running), you can also apply directly to hospitals, particularly if you’re a recent graduate and looking for a longer-term commitment.
4. Pack light
One of my biggest anxieties about moving abroad was what I would pack in my suitcase and how I would squeeze it all in there. What I didn’t really consider was that “working abroad” meant I would spend most my time in my work clothes. I also lugged all my scrubs from Canada to the UK, only to find out that healthcare workers in the UK wear tunics supplied by their workplace and black trousers.
If you land a job before you depart, check-in with your employer to find out what the dress code is.
5. Apply for a National Insurance Number
“The most challenging aspect of working abroad has been how small things seem to differ from the way they work in Canada,” says Jessica Smith, a medical laboratory assistant located in Stoke-On-Trent. For example, she notes, people don’t do their own taxes in the UK.
My biggest tax-related hurdle was acquiring my National Insurance Number (NIN). I was conned into paying £50, causing my British friends to roll their eyes at my naivety.
You’ll need a NIN for taxation purposes if you’re planning on making an income in the UK. Trust me when I say a NIN is free. It will only take a few weeks to arrive at your place of residence after you’ve made an appointment at your local Jobcentre, where they will ask you to provide proof of identity.
6. Don’t get discouraged
The two months before I found a job were stressful. I searched desperately high and low for anywhere that would take me, applying to dozens of radiography and minimum wage jobs alike.
My advice would be to not get discouraged. Eventually there will be that one place that will want to hire you, and that will be a catalyst to set everything into place. Don’t be afraid to accept help either and, if working with an agency, to find one that will work for you.
Moving abroad to work in healthcare as an entry-level practitioner can be tough at times. But if you’re like me, you might find it’s one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done.
This article was originally published in Volume 19, Issue 2 of Verge Magazine.Add this article to your reading list