There are few professionals more prone to mobility than doctors. Once released from the relatively constrained environment of medical school doctors tend to embark on a peripatetic journey, moving from one location to another for many years before settling down. Doctors are used to being on the road, but even the most hardened traveller will find that moving overseas is a big deal.
Our business specializes in helping doctors to relocate overseas and we speak to literally thousands of physicians who approach us with intent to do so. The first question we always ask them is, “Why do you want to do this?”
Some patterns emerge based on push factors. UK doctors will say something like, “I’m sick of the NHS - the paperwork and politics, and frankly, I can’t stand the weather.”
Doctors from the US are more likely to say, “I want to get away from of a culture of litigation, HMOs and practicing defensive medicine.”
South Africans are often concerned about personal safety and Europeans are frequently looking for better pay for fewer hours. Canadians generally love their work but want a break from nine months of winter.
There are pull factors as well. Australia and New Zealand are known for outdoor lifestyle, pleasant climate and their quality health systems.
Singapore practices Western-style medicine in Asia. Many doctors of Asian origin express a desire to live closer to their families but also to work in a system that is more familiar to them if they have spent some time in the West.
So, if you are a doctor looking to work overseas why is it important, or even relevant, for us to know the answer to this opening question?
For us, your first response to this question is the most critical thing that we will take away from our initial interview with you. The recruitment and immigration process that doctors have to go through to commence work overseas can be long and painful at times and one of our jobs as 'career consultants' is to remind you of your initial motivation when the going gets tough.
The rubber usually hits the road at the offer stage when a decision has to be made – yes or no. It's all been fun and games up to that point but then suddenly you have to contemplate leaving your job, selling your house, outsourcing the pets and saying goodbye to mum and dad.
Cold feet is a typical response and a good recruiter will remind you “ Remember, you wanted to do this because…<insert reason here>.”
Leaving your comfort zone, and indeed your loved ones, is never easy. A good analogy I heard recently was that of a trapeze artist learning their new skill.
You feel safe holding on to the first bar and you know that when you grab the second you will be fine, but what of the period in between? Letting go is the hardest and scariest thing to do and that mid-air bit is the period of greatest anxiety.
Such transitions are always easier if someone is coaching and supporting you through the hard part, and your recruiter should be there to help you remember why you wanted to do this in the first place. So go ahead and let go. Sometimes the grass really is greener...
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Dr John Bethell graduated from Aberdeen Medical School in 1990 and worked as a doctor in both the UK and Australia, launching Wavelength with co-founder Claire Ponsford in 1999. As a pioneer and market leader of medical recruitment in Australia Dr Bethell has seen the industry grow and mature. After two decades of helping doctors find work and healthcare employers find doctors, he sees the medical workforce world from a unique perspective.