Studying medicine abroad is an increasingly common option for UK students. Many students are hesitant about this option due to many concerns e.g. living away from family and friends in a different country, language barriers, being able to get work in the UK to name a few. We hope this article can settle some of those concerns as insight is given to what it is like to study abroad and begin work as a doctor in the U.K. from the words of Dr Ibby, an FY1 who recently graduated from the Plovdiv Medical School in Bulgaria.
Who is Ibby?
My name is Ibuchi or Ibby, I’m 24 years old and graduated from Plovdiv Medical School at the end of last year. I officially started as an FY1 Doctor in April... in the midst of a pandemic 😅😭. Despite it being hectic in my hospital being thrown in the deep end, by the grace of God I must say that I’ve gotten through the worst of it!
I’m one half of @the2medics, where myself and my best friend are documenting our journey as new FY1s. We also give advice and tips we learn along the way, so make sure to check us out! I’m passionate about global health, medical education and women empowerment.
Outside of medicine, I’m a budding entrepreneur, baker and beauty and skincare fanatic.
A Bulgarian experience
At 18 years old, I was faced with the decision to delay and potentially give up my dream of pursuing medicine. I knew with everything within me that this is what I wanted to do. A couple of weeks after results day along with extensive research, prayer and support of my family, I decided to take a big leap of faith and chose to study medicine abroad!
I really believe rejection is redirection! Nobody could have told me nor could I have imagined that a country I had no prior knowledge on, would not only deliver my dream of studying medicine but bring about countless opportunities, friendships and massive personal growth. It has come with its challenges, but you learn and become equipped on how to handle and get through the times of burn out and lack of motivation.
Being part of the gospel choir VOP and co-founding Bulgaria’s first ACS, helped me to develop skills and friendships that I hold dear to my heart.
One of the highlights of my time as a medical student was the creation of @medstudentsonamission. Myself and 5 friends, all had the passion and drive to help communities deprived of access to basic healthcare. Through fundraising activities and a lot of baking, we have held several medical outreach camps both in Bulgaria and internationally, working alongside doctors and other NGOs to positively impact the lives of many people.
The return to the U.K.
To put it simply, the UK is home for me, and it was always my desire to complete my foundation years and speciality training here. After spending 6 years abroad, it’s nice to be home!
The process of applying to the UK varies on where you have studied and where you are from. In my case, I’m part of a new training programme called The Gateway Doctor Programme. This is a Foundation Training equivalent for students that have studied outside of the UK. We will finish after 2 years and are expected to complete the normal requirements of an FY1 and FY2 doctor. I’m really grateful to be a part of the programme; as it ensures that you are entitled to the same training as other junior doctors.
One of the extra mandatory things that will be required is completing the IELTS exam (International English Language Testing System).
Registration with the GMC is your next step, there are several checks, and this may take some time. It’s important to check their website and call if you’re unsure of any part of the process. Once that’s completed you will need to have your CV ready to apply for jobs that you may see - either via an agency, training programme or directly through the hospital. If successful, you’ll be interviewed and then hopefully start working!
The transition from studying in Bulgaria to working in the NHS
There are major differences between the healthcare systems, as you can imagine Eastern Europe and Western Europe are culturally very different! However, medicine is medicine and the same concepts still apply. One of the differences that caught me off guard slightly were the abbreviations for literally everything! 😂 You’d have your senior ask you for something and they’d drop about 5 abbreviations. It would have me so baffled at first, but you pick things up quickly so it’s a hurdle that you cross after a few weeks.
I have to say you learn quite a lot on the job. At medical school I wasn’t taught how to write a discharge summary (I’m not sure many people are). Nonetheless, with patience and persistence, you learn the art of writing discharge summaries quite quickly. Now that I’ve been working for about 2 months, I definitely feel more at ease and understand my role and responsibilities but there’s still a long way to go.
Tips for those who want to work in the UK from studying abroad
The learning never stops!! 😂 Naturally you’ll forget some things you’ve learnt over your medical degree, so I’d recommend not giving away all of your old textbooks.
Be patient with yourself, you may make a few mistakes in the beginning! It’s okay, remember that it’s a learning curve- a pretty steep one at that. Before you know it, you’ll be comfortable and confident in your role.
Be observant and always ask questions/for help if you’re unsure about something!
Reflect on your day and always seek advice from your seniors on ways you could improve as a Junior.
To those that have studied abroad - please, please, please try to arrange a clinical attachment! It’ll be even better if it’s in the hospital you plan on working in!
We hope this article has given you a better insight into the transition to working as a UK doctor as an international graduate. A massive thank you to Dr Ibuchi for taking the time to share her experience!
If you have any questions for Dr Ibuchi or would like to know more, please feel free to message @the2medics on Instagram or email at email@example.com.
Written by Dr Ibuchi, junior doctor working in the UK, trained in Bulgaria