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Another country

What’s it like to train abroad and then find work in the UK? Robert Millett speaks to two physios who have made the move

Around 2,500 CSP members who practise in the UK  gained their qualifications overseas – forming around five per cent of the society’s membership.

Some may have arrived decades ago, but many came relatively recently.

The challenges they face include obtaining legal registration to practise, getting ahead in a competitive job market and learning to adapt to UK-style physiotherapy.

To help support people in this situation the society has launched an overseas qualified network on the iCSP website.

This forum encourages members who trained abroad to share their experiences, network with each other and access information that is designed to support them as they leave home and settle into living and working in the UK.

Birgit Mueller-Winkler, the CSP’s adviser for international development, is one of the moderators for the new network.

She says moving to a new country can be daunting and finding jobs can prove challenging, especially as some physios’ experience isn’t fully recognised by our healthcare system.

As a result, many end up working in non-NHS settings.

‘We try to offer members an opportunity to get in touch with each other and share experiences which might be helpful for newcomers,’ says Ms Mueller-Winkler.

The network caters for members of all nationalities and backgrounds.

Seeking sporting opportunities

Elinor Young graduated from the University of Cape Town in 2007.

After that, she completed a year of community service – which is compulsory for all health professionals in South Africa – in government clinics to the east of Johannesburg.

After that she entered into private physiotherapy work, specialising in musculoskeletal, sports and orthopaedics.

Next, she moved to a clinic attached to the 263-bed Johannesburg’s Linksfield Hospital, where she worked alongside a team of experienced orthopaedic surgeons.

During this time she also worked at St John’s College, the Johannesburg Gymnastics Club, and with the Golden Lions Rugby Union squad.

After working in South Africa for four and a half years, Ms Young decided to move to the UK in July 2012.

‘The majority of my family were living here, I was looking for a new experience, and I was hoping for new opportunities in the sporting world,’ says Ms Young.

‘It’s a fairly limited industry in South Africa, with funding dedicated to very few sport disciplines and I was also interested in the opportunities for further study here.’

Becoming registered as a physio proved relatively straightforward for Ms Young and she says both the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the CSP provided prompt and helpful responses to her enquiries.

After printing off the application form from the HCPC website, she started gathering the required documents.

These include clinical references, character references, proof of fluency in English, proof of identity and address and various documents from her university, including degree and registration.

Everything then had to be officially certified.

Finally, once all the documents have been submitted and an applicant’s pack has been received by the HCPC, a ‘perusal fee’ of £460 is required before the application is considered.

The importance of being proactive

Initially, Ms Young intended to seek locum work through recruitment agencies, but although she registered with six agencies nothing suitable emerged.

‘I found that although they were very keen to get new physios on their lists, there was quite poor follow-up.

‘Even though I specified the type of work I was seeking, I continually received emails for work I was not qualified for.’

Ms Young is currently working full time in a private clinic for the Australian Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute (APPI) Health Group.

She also works part-time with a professional a rugby union team, London Scottish, where she supports the head physio.

She finds the working environment in the UK doesn’t differ too much from her previous experience.

‘The role of the physiotherapist in private practice, and the general understanding of when to seek treatment is similar to South Africa,’ says Ms Young.

‘Physiotherapists act as primary care givers, making diagnoses and referrals as required but one difference to be aware of is that most privately-employed physiotherapists are self-employed, so they work on commission only and have no paid leave.’

Ms Young says she is glad she made the move as she has been able to expand her knowledge and move outside some of her comfort zones.

But she adds: ‘I do miss the comfort of knowing consultants and specialists personally, and being able to make and receive quick and easy referrals within a multidisciplinary team.’ 

Chasing her dreams

Atika Jain, originally from Bhilwara, Rajasthan, graduated in physiotherapy in India before moving to the UK in 2009.

She joined an MSc course in paediatric physiotherapy at Sheffield Hallam University.

Her move was prompted by the educational opportunities on offer and a desire to carve out a career working with children. Making her dreams a reality proved to be far from plain sailing.

‘To get registered with the HCPC was a big hurdle but getting recognised as a physiotherapist is equally hard,’ says Ms Jain.

‘It was more challenging because I was new to both the social culture as well as the work culture.’

While studying, Ms Jain managed to find part-time work as a support worker with Autism Plus and Freeman College in Sheffield, and she was also employed by locum agencies.

‘They found me work across England, both as a physio assistant and a physio, working in community falls and orthopaedic inpatients and outpatients,’ says Ms Jain.

Having gained this experience Ms Jain was optimistic that finding full-time work would not prove too difficult, but soon found she was in the middle of a competitive job market with too little NHS experience on her CV.

‘I applied for a lot of assistant and physio roles and I received interview calls from some, but the feedback always pointed towards a lack of NHS experience and being over-qualified for assistant roles,’ says Ms Jain.

‘I was really shattered because I wondered why HR [human resources] was inviting me for these interviews.

In my opinion, it was a waste of time, money, energy and the non-productive feedback caused a lot of stress.’

Luckily Ms Jain has some mentors who supported her and guided her towards various opportunities.

Ms Jain’s university tutor helped her prepare for interviews and the director of the Movement Centre, Penny Butler, helped inspire her by reminding her ‘that young people are the future of the profession’.

Help from the CSP

Ms Jain also found the CSP resources useful. ‘The society definitely helped me to set and organise my targets,’ she says.

‘All the things like “job escalator”, news from other NHS trusts including Wales, Scotland and North Ireland, iCSP, the courses and conferences updates and the online portfolio were very helpful.

I also registered with the Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists and made use of the insurance coverage and CSP Plus benefits.’

Ms Jain attended a number of conferences and training courses and generally bolstered her continuing professional development.

Finally, all her hard work paid off and Ms Jain found long-term employment in her chosen field.

She has now been working as a physio in the UK for eight months and is soon set to start as a specialist community paediatric physiotherapist at Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership NHS Trust.

She has also signed up to the new iCSP network and is keen to share her experience with others.

She has found strengths and weaknesses in the UK system.

‘The principle of physiotherapy is the same but the approach is different,’ says Ms Jain. ‘In the UK I like the whole structure of multidisciplinary team – it’s easy to approach and talk to surgeons and consultants – but I don’t like the long waiting lists which I didn’t find in India.’ fl

Ms Young has some advice for overseas physios coming to the UK:

  • Start putting your HCPC application together about six months before you plan to move
  • Take care when selecting employment agencies
  • Maintain consistent communication with your assigned employment agent
  • Don’t rely on agents –keep investigating other options at the same time
  • Use the internet to research for potential opportunities
  • Make lists of interesting clinics and useful contacts – such as sports clubs, coaches and physios in your chosen field.

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