My Experience of Moving to the UK as a Neurosurgery Registrar

Dr. Stavros Stavropoulos talks to RIG Locums about his experience moving from Greece to the UK to work as neurosurgeon.

What attracted you to the UK?

I moved here in 2011, and for me the decision was a combination of two factors – firstly, the economic crisis in Greece, and secondly because the UK provided a great opportunity to gain further experience in the operating field, which I didn’t have in my home country.

I left Greece right after finishing my training. If I had stayed, the number of operations I would have done in Greece as a young neurosurgeon either in the private or in the public sector would be far less compared to what I have been able to do in the UK. Furthermore, I was keen to be exposed to a different health system, especially a renowned one such as the NHS, which despite its problems and shortcomings is still able to provide a high level of care to patients. Getting exposure to different health system cultures is always useful and widens one’s horizons and introduces a new way of thinking and approaching matters.

Some other differences between Greece and the UK medical systems are that training in Greece can differ significantly amongst different hospitals, whereas in the UK it is consistent. Also, there is a shortage of fellowships that prepare the young doctors for Consultant jobs and formal sub-specialty training in Greece.

I think it is useful to work initially at a registrar level before you move in to a sub specialty in order to get to know the system. Once you do that, then you are more likely to get the most out of your sub-specialty training, which lasts for a relatively short period. With the advances in the operating field and in medicine in general, the need for sub-specialisation has dramatically increased and so has the demand for such posts. Therefore, it can be challenging for a doctor, especially for one from outside the UK training scheme to get such a job.

Up to now my UK experience at work has been more than pleasant and fulfilling.

What challenges did you face when moving to the UK?

Because I was already an EU citizen, I didn’t have to worry about visas or work permits.  However, I did need to apply for my GMC registration but this was a fairly straightforward procedure especially as all of my qualifications were recognised in the UK.  The GMC website was very clear and provided all the information I needed and the whole process took less than a month. I had to take a trip to the UK for an interview to complete the final stage of the process.  I was able to book the time of my interview online and arrange it around my own diary.

In terms of finding work, my biggest challenge was convincing people that I was right for the role without any UK experience to speak of.  I sent my CV to RIG Locums and a recruitment consultant there was quickly able to help me find a locum neurosurgery post at a registrar level, which introduced me to the system and helped me getting my next job.

The initial locum position was for two and a half months and gave me the opportunity to demonstrate my capabilities as a neurosurgeon.  I did not stop looking for jobs and within the first month I was very lucky to get an interview for a clinical fellow (Trust doctor at a registrar level) and I got the job!

How about some of the other practicalities, like finding accommodation?

Actually, I didn’t have the best experience finding accommodation.  In the beginning I moved into the hospital accommodation, but the level was much lower than I would have expected from the UK. These were rooms without an internet connection, and a shared kitchen and bathroom.

I wanted to bring my wife and baby to the UK, so I soon started looking for an apartment.  The NHS owned apartments that I could rent for as long as I worked there were in an unacceptable condition. As my job was for two and a half months and the minimum renting period is 6 months in the private-rented market, my only realistic option in order to be with my family was a “serviced apartment” that I could rent by the week and was ridiculously expensive (£490 per week). However, the Locum job paid well and I was able to spend that money for the luxury of playing with my 9-month old boy in my limited spare time.

On the positive side, in the UK most of the apartments or houses come furnished and even have TVs. Furthermore, even the unfurnished properties come with the essential electrical appliances like a refrigerator, cooker and washing machine/dryer. So, you can practically move in and settle only with your clothes in a suitcase!

How did you find the UK working environment initially?

I’m usually an adaptable person, but even for me it was a shock to see how different the UK health system and culture was compared to that of Greece.

The director-centered system in Greece (like the system in Germany) is substantially different to the Consultant-based system in the UK where each consultant is independent and equal to his colleagues.

The multi-disciplinary team meetings and the way the decisions are taken is not much different than the “one man show” seen in other countries. It is definitely a safer approach that minimises the risks of bad or wrong decisions. It also is a very useful educational tool for the trainees to learn and discuss the management of the patients and their diseases. On the other hand, this approach can be criticised about delaying decisions and sometimes, its overuse can unnecessarily increase doctors’ workloads.

The formal discussions we have about things that have gone wrong are a great way to learn from mistakes.  Also, continuous measurement of the quality of our practice (e.g. with audits) is incorporated into NHS culture, and is extremely useful for the trainees and also for the improvement in the quality of care.

The extensive use of computers, electronic documentation and requesting of examinations as well as digital imaging are very helpful and also essential in order to cope with the workload. It really makes the job easier compared to the traditional paper-based methods.

People also follow certain etiquette in the work place.  Politeness is the key.  Coming from a background where people can sometimes be quite upfront, often the tone of my voice could be misinterpreted as sounding “angry”. During one of my first times in surgery, I recall being asked, “why are you shouting?” which baffled me – if I had been, they would have known!

What advice would you give to other doctors looking to move to the UK?

For doctors who have completed their specialist training before coming to the UK, I would advise them to start off by finding a locum job to be able to get a foot in the door.  A locum doctor job can be easier to find and it pays much better!

Be prepared to work hard because the job can be demanding.   You will have to get used to the new environment and a different way of thinking in parallel to doing your job, which will involve more time spent in hospital in the first few months.  Try to be open-minded and don’t necessarily transfer practice as you knew it to your new environment. 

Always move forward and think of the next step.  The UK gives you several opportunities to think about what you want to do and plan how you are going to do it.  Then, apply for a proper job and embrace every opportunity you get.

International doctors coming to the UK leave their friends, family and past life behind. It is a big sacrifice to make, so be specific with what you seek and make the most out of every single day.  It is easy and alluring to settle for a job that gives you confidence and a sense of security, but it is important to pursue something that will get you out of your comfort zone and push you to be better at what you are doing.

<>If you are an overseas doctor looking to move to the UK, call us today on 0800 690 6044 or email [email protected]