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A world of difference

Travelling broadens the mind, they say, and the idea of working overseas has proved alluring to generations of physiotherapists over the years

Whatever the UK’s economic situation, a spell working abroad gives physios the chance to sample another culture as well as gaining an insight into contrasting practice experiences. It also doesn’t look bad on one’s CV.

But there may be hurdles to overcome, warns Birgit Mueller-Winkler, the CSP’s international adviser.

Those wishing to work in countries such as Australia, USA, Canada and South Africa must first undergo a full examination process.

In other countries, however, the registration process is more straightforward.

As an English-speaking country and a former British colony in south east Asia, Singapore has attracted a number of UK-qualified physiotherapists.

Originally from Galway, physiotherapist Kathryn Foy spent two years working in Singapore before returning to Ireland in the autumn.

After graduating from St George’s, University of London in 2010, Ms Foy worked briefly as a band 4 therapy assistant at St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust in south London, while waiting for her Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration to be completed.

‘In the spring of 2010 there was a recruitment drive by the Singapore healthcare system in the UK and Ireland and I attended a lecture at St George’s on living and working in Singapore,’ says Ms Foy.

‘At the time, like now, job opportunities after graduation were limited with no guarantee of getting a junior rotational post any time soon after graduation.

Without my HCPC registration I couldn’t apply for NHS jobs so I decided, after much deliberation, to accept a job in Singapore.’

Lovely apartment but long working weeks

Fortunately, Ms Foy had previously visited the country as a tourist and had some idea of what to expect. But moving there on a full-time basis for work provided new challenges.

‘Initially trying to find accommodation proved difficult, but once that was under control I lived in a lovely apartment with state of the art facilities,’ says Ms Foy.

‘The language barrier also proved challenging at times, especially with older patients, so I did a basic Malay course to develop my language skills.’

Ms Foy was employed at Singapore General Hospital and found herself working a 42-hour week.   

Although the shifts were long in comparison to the European average, she says the patient caseload and the experiences she gained were invaluable.

‘At interview they asked me if I had any specialist interest areas and I emphasised that, although I was interested in paediatrics, I felt it was important to do the core rotations to get a well-rounded experience,’ says Ms Foy.

‘So I was lucky enough to gain experience in all the core areas.’

Throughout the week she would also be involved in various non-clinical duties, such as ward rounds, multidisciplinary meetings, staff meetings, and mentoring. 

Making friends was easy

The health system in Singapore is state-funded and Ms Foy says the resources provided, such as a hyperbaric diving centre and a state of the art burns unit, seemed generous in comparison to the NHS.

It did, however, take some time to get used to a number of major procedural differences.

‘Patient billing at the end of the day was difficult,’ says Ms Foy.

‘But it became second nature as time progressed.’

As well as imparting a wealth of clinical insights Ms Foy says there were many other benefits to working in Singapore.

A large ‘expat’ community of other healthcare professionals means making friends is easy and the general quality of life in Singapore is high.

Ms Foy says she received yearly bonuses and a monthly housing allowance.

Her air conditioned apartment block also came with lavish facilities including hot tubs, a gym, tennis and basketball courts and a 50 metre swimming pool.

The average daily temperature in Singapore is 29 degrees and there are high levels of humidity, which can prove difficult for some visitors.

‘The heat was definitely something to contend with initially, but it did get easier and didn’t really faze me as I acclimatised,’ says Ms Foy.

‘At the hospital the higher class wards were air conditioned, while the lower class wards were fitted with fans.

But it was particularly difficult if you had to wear plastic gowns, gloves and masks to see patients with infectious diseases.’

Ms Foy says she was readily accepted by her colleagues, although being fully involved in conversations sometimes proved difficult as the languages of English, Mandarin and Malay were often used interchangeably.

‘In Singapore a few generations of a family live under the same roof, so my colleagues did wonder why I had travelled so far abroad to work,’ says Ms Foy.

‘They found it difficult to understand that jobs in the UK were limited.’

But overall Ms Foy says the only real down-side was living so far away from family, friends and home. 

Registration problems looming

Mrs Mueller-Winkler says UK physiotherapists can still go to Singapore without having to go through major registration procedures, but this situation may soon change.

The Singaporean Ministry of Health held international recruitment events earlier this year and are known to still be actively looking for qualified health professionals to meet their needs.

But the ministry’s Allied Health Professions Council (AHPC) has announced that changes in registration will be implemented shortly, although the full details are yet to be finalised.

‘Registration is likely to become more difficult with some form of assessment or written exam soon to be implemented prior to being able to work in Singapore,’ says Ms Foy.

‘With the new registration process there will be mandatory supervision, which is especially beneficial for new staff.’

Physiotherapists thinking of working in Singapore should also be aware that they will be required to pay $200 (around £100) to become registered.

Ms Foy has now returned to Ireland and is living with her parents while she seeks employment in the NHS.

She is currently relying on her savings, searching for jobs and keeping up her physio skills by working with teams from the Gaelic Games club at the National University of Ireland in Galway.

Ms Foy says she learned a lot from her time in Singapore and gained cultural skills that she feels are relevant to modern society and the diverse population served by the NHS.

To make the most of the opportunity, she recommends that new graduates who travel to Singapore do their best to obtain a rotational post.

‘Ensure that the “job spec” matches the experience that you want to get out of it, and research various hospitals so you get the best opportunity to do the rotations that you wish,’ says Ms Foy.

‘Be prepared to work longer hours than in the UK.

You need to be dynamic and willing to adapt to the varying culture, customs, habits and pace and make a  concerted effort to proactively integrate into the ways of working life in Singapore.’


For further information visit: www.healthprofessionals.gov.sg/content/hprof/ahpc/en/topnav/home.html

A short-term break or long-term option?

The lure of gaining new experiences led Simon Case from Willsbridge, Bristol, to move to Dubai, a burgeoning city on the Persian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

He has lived in the country for almost two years and currently works at a private medical clinic in the district of Jumeriah Beach.

He is also employed as a physio by the UAE national rugby team and frequently travels around Asia to ensure the players stay fit.

Last month he was busy preparing for the HSBC Sevens event.

After graduating from Bournemouth University in 2008, Mr Case was employed in the UK at the BMI Bath Clinic in Somerset, working with outpatients.

He specialises in musculoskeletal physiotherapy, and he has a special interest in sports injuries.

What prompted his move?

‘I just wanted to try something new and decided to give myself two years out here to see what happens,‘ says Mr Case. ‘Now I can see myself staying for a long time.’

At first, he had to contend with time-consuming bureaucracy – such as securing a residence visa and having mandatory medical tests.

However, registering as a physiotherapist was a fairly simple task. Mr Case explains that physiotherapists in Dubai are required to have one of two licenses, depending on the location of the clinic or hospital where they work.

‘One of the licences just requires you to submit forms and prove your eligibility; the other requires you to sit an examination.

Your company will usually sort out a lot of the form-filling. I obtained both licences when I got here – it was pretty straightforward,’ says Mr Case.

He joined ADAPT – the professional network of physios working in international work and development – after moving. The main challenges were sorting out his car insurance and mobile phone contracts before leaving the UK.

While leaving friends and family behind was a hurdle, Mr Case says he can now provide people with a great place to visit on holiday.

All healthcare in Dubai is private and as a result getting equipment is rarely an issue, says Mr Case.

Sick leave for individuals is also capped in the country and, as a result, patients are generally committed to their treatment regimes as they have ‘a greater need to get back to fitness quickly’.

Those with minimal insurance or money go to government hospitals, though Mr Case says he has little experience of this system.

Lifestyle boons

Mr Case says  Dubai, has many attractive attributes. ‘It’s sunny every day so being able to do things on weekends is easy.

There are lots of sporting clubs and facilities which are floodlit, so even when you finish work you can go and do things late into the evening – like a midnight round of golf,’ says Mr Case.

He also enjoys the career flexibility that is available and describes the work environment as generally ‘very chilled out and stress free’.

Travelling from Dubai is easy – countries he’s visited include Australia, Maldives, India, China and Borneo. There are some financial boons too.

‘Wages for physiotherapists are much higher here than in the UK and there is no tax payable on your income, which makes a huge difference,’ says Mr Case. ‘It’s been a huge learning opportunity.’

Mr Case advises physiotherapists who might be interested in working in Dubai to ensure that they check their contracts very carefully, Apart from that minor warning he remains wholeheartedly positive about the opportunities Dubai can offer.

‘Take a chance and just do it. If the worst comes to the worst, you can go back home with a little extra life experience and a sun tan.’ fl

To find out more, visit the CSP website: www.csp.org.uk and search for ‘working internationally’.

Top Tips for planning before you head abroad:

  • make sure you register before starting work if registration is in operation in your host country
  • look at the ‘international’ pages of the CSP website for more information on individual countries
  • develop your cultural competence – research your country and the setting you plan to be working thoroughly to understand main issues in that country
  • the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) is a good resource – they hold a country profile for most of their 106 member organisations. Visit: www.wcpt.org/members
  • CSP professional liability insurance covers you for temporary work abroad for up to 180 days in any 12 months and is valid for most countries – please refer to the ‘insurance’ section on the website for more details. Visit: www.csp.org.uk

 

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Article Information

Issue date

5 December 2012

Volume number

18

Issue number

21

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