In this blog series, Lara shares her experience as an oversea-trained physiotherapist working in the UK. From guidance on the HCPC registration process to discussion around UK and international physio news, she hopes to provide help to foreign physios looking to work in the UK - and to connect with those of you who already are!
It's all well and good for me to say that I love working in the UK as a foreigner, but how about others? I am always pleased to see that more colleagues are embracing the opportunity to work over here, so when Andres from Spain contacted me to share his experience, I was very excited to interview him for the blog. It's great to find people who have been through the same process, and always interesting to hear about other perspectives… And when I hear about other successful experiences, it also gives me the confidence that with perseverance anything is possible!
Andres' first experience in the UK was through a student work placement. We often get asked about placements and while it's true that it's hard to secure them as a foreign-trained physio, it's not impossible. Andres managed it, and it was the start of a great success story!
Lara: - Can you give me a brief introduction about yourself?
Andres: - My name is Andres, I'm from Madrid, Spain. I studied a physiotherapy degree at King Juan Carlos University. Currently I work as a physiotherapist for a hospital in Liverpool.
L: - How and why did you end up in the UK?
A: - I was offered an Erasmus placement by my university. It's a 3-month programme that would allow me to work abroad in a clinic, centre or hospital that was willing to offer me a placement as a student physiotherapist (even though I was qualified in my home country, I couldn't work as a physiotherapist as part of this programme). There was a few options available in different countries around Europe, and depending on the country I chose, I could also get some financial support.
I chose the United Kingdom as I had already visited the country a few times and loved the British culture. I had to find a place to work myself, and it was indeed quite difficult as very few places would accept candidates as part of an Erasmus programme. I did eventually find a neurotherapy centre that offered me a placement: it was a charity centre specialised in treating people with neurological conditions, mostly multiple sclerosis. At the end of my placement, I was offered a job and decide to take it!
L: - How was the process of doing an Erasmus placement in UK?
A: - First of all I had to contact my university telling them I wanted to do an Erasmus placement. Then as I have just described it, I had to contact centres, hospitals and clinics to find a placement. Lastly (and perhaps most importantly) I had to get the organisation where I was due to do the placement to sign a few forms I was provided by my university, so I could be eligible for the scholarship.
Once papers were signed off and dates were agreed by the centre and my university, I still had to apply for private insurance as my Spanish professional insurance did not cover me abroad - and I was of course not yet registered with the competent authority in the UK. This was easy however as there are short-term / monthly insurance schemes specifically made for medical placements. After all this, it was time to book the flights and start my new adventure!
L: - How was the experience?
A: - I recommend this kind of experience to everyone if they have the chance. In the centre I worked in a multidisciplinary team with a nurse, occupational therapist, other physios and different assistants. We used to run one-to-one sessions with patients and some modified pilates classes for the more advanced ones.
My first week was basically an induction: showing me the centre, equipment, introducing me to the new people I would work with for the next three months. To be honest, I was a bit afraid at the beginning as I had not studied English in 5 years since finishing high school! The first month was very hard work because I had to try to deliver quality physiotherapy in another language and I did not want to let the manager down as she gave me the opportunity to participate in this project. As time went on I was able to learn new words, new phrases which I used daily and that would eventually help me throughout my placement. By the end of my placement, one of the physiotherapists in the centre wanted to retire and the manager offered me a job as a physiotherapist!
L: - Do you think doing a placement in the UK made things easier for you to acquire your HCPC registration? If so, why?
A: - I think I benefitted greatly from doing a placement in the UK to get my HCPC registration. British organisations recognise people who are ambitious, enthusiastic and hard working, and volunteering/doing a placement in the UK (especially coming from abroad) can mean a lot to them and prove that you're willing to learn about the profession, the standards, the different ways of working - both in the physiotherapy field as well as in other areas.
L: - What was the biggest difficulty you found in organising your placement? And to get registered?
A: - The hardest thing was finding an organisation that would let me do the placement; I spent a good month making phone calls and sending emails. I was in a bit of a rush as the deadline for the scholarship was in August and I started looking in July! But if you give yourself plenty of time and plan everything from the beginning it will not be as tricky.
In order to take the job I was offered, I had to register with the HCPC so I had to do quite a bit of research about the organisation and all the paperwork needed for the registration.
L: - How about your current place of work, what is your experience of the British system and how does the physiotherapy profession differ to the profession in Spain?
A: - I think the British healthcare system is so different than the Spanish one. Back home, every physiotherapist you come across has a MSK background. Here you can be a respiratory physiotherapist or a neuro physio for instance. Also there are a lot of protocols and rules that govern the physiotherapy profession: one of the most important one is that you have to keep a record of everything you do in your therapy sessions. If it is not on paper, it did not happen! It also helps therapists to cover their back in case of complaints!
I think the main differences between Spanish physiotherapy and UK physiotherapy is the paperwork definitely, the different specialities you can choose (musculoskeletal, respiratory, intensive care, orthopaedics, sports amongst others,..) and also the importance that physiotherapists have within the public healthcare system - and that's why there are more jobs available in the national health system.
L: - Do you have any advice for other physios following your steps?
A: - I think the best advice for physios wanting to come and work in the UK is to not give up! I found many obstacles in my way before I was able to be in the position I am now, but giving up was not an option!
L: - How about the next steps of your career? Do you see yourself growing professionally in the UK?
A: - I can see myself growing and developing my career in the UK, but I also have home on my mind. If Spain could offer the same opportunities that the UK offers at the moment, I would return home. In the UK, in the short-term, I would like to specialise in musculoskeletal and orthopaedics within the NHS.
L: - If you don't see yourself working long-term in the UK, do you think this experience will help you achieve your professional goals in Spain? If so, how or why?
A: - In Spain, employers really value work experience from public hospitals in other countries of the European Union. Therefore if I chose to come back, my experience in working in the NHS (public system) would put me in a great position to work within the Spanish public healthcare system. Also, having rotated and worked within most of the hospital specialities and departments, I have learned about so many different pathologies and their management, and this will help me in my future career to deliver the best care possible to all patients I come accross.
Andres has recently moved from a Band 5 rotational position to a Band 6 rotational (from a junior post to a senior post - to see what this means see this post about ‘bands’). The reason I'm mentioning this (apart from sending a huge CONGRATULATIONS to him!), is because to me, it shows that anyone that is willing to work hard has the opportunity to grow professionally here in the UK and acquire invaluable skills for the future.
Still thinking about it? If you want to start your career as a physiotherapist in the UK but you're not too sure where to start - give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org or me personally at email@example.com and we'll help you make sense of the process! You can also check out what support we provide to EU nationals / internationals here.
About the author
Lara is a Spanish physiotherapist who has been working in the UK for the past 3 years. Having worked as a rotational physiotherapist over here, she's had experience in a wide range of specialities and now works as a Band 6 Physiotherapist. However, it hasn't always been easy finding her way and adjusting to the UK system. She's since been sharing her experience and helping other foreign-trained physios to come and settle here; firstly through her own blog, and now as part of the QP team!