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!
If you're thinking of coming to the UK as a non-native english speaker and fresh-off-the-boat want to find work as a physio, then you need a good level of English. And by "good level", I do not mean what we all stick at the end of our CV back home... I mean really good.
If you're European then you're in luck as right now it is not required to formally demonstrate your English skills to register as a Physiotherapist in the UK. However, it is stipulated that if an employer is hiring a non-UK worker they have the right to request a certificate proving their language level. Whilst I have never experienced this and I have not met anyone that had, it could well happen. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to go and get a certificate, it means that to minimise the chances of being asked for one, you need to get your English up to scratch!
So, how does the employer know if your English is good enough? - The interview! If you're able to go through a physio interview and not only understand what you are being asked, but you're also able to answer back in a fluent manner - then you've most likely passed the test!
If you come out of the interview confused or did not fully understand everything, then don’t panic, you just need to keep practising a bit more (and we'll go into this in a minute).
To me, being able to go through an interview is what tells me if someone's english is good enough to work as a physiotherapist over here, regardless of being successful.
I am not forgetting about the non-European physios. Unfortunately, unless indicated on the HCPC website, most non-European from non-English speaking countries need proof of their English level. The certificates that HCPC accepts as proof are the IELTS or TOEFL (you may submit a different certificate but you need to demonstrate its equivalence to the IELTS).
Minimum Test Score
Speech And Language Therapists*
All Other Professions
INTERNATIONAL ENGLISH LANGUAGE TESTING SYSTEM (IELTS)
8.0 with no element below 7.5
7.0 with no element below 6.5
For more info visit the HCPC website at https://www.hcpc-uk.org/apply/international/
Let’s get practical: how do I improve my English?
I am going to give you ideas and suggestions on ways to improve your English to prepare efficiently for your move to the UK. However, the best person to tell you what works best for you, is yourself. Each one of us has a different method of learning; you can obviously listen to other people’s experiences, but my number 1 tip is to make time to find out about your own learning style. Have a think about learning techniques you've find helpful in the past as well as things that motivate you to learn - and combine them!
- Obviously, the first option is to sign up to one of those English courses that are so popular everywhere. This is a good method for those who like a structured way to learn and can also be a challenge as often these courses will prepare you for a formal language exam.
- If you live near a university then most likely there will be exchange students. These students often seek (cheap or free) help to learn the local language, and you'll find social media groups with ‘language exchange’ offers. You can also do this on other platforms like Skype and there are even websites and apps that connect you with native speakers (like Wespeke or Hellotalk).
- Immerse yourself as much as possible. The key is not only to speak and understand English but to be at ease in an English-speaking environment, making use of all your senses. This might seem obvious but I still find people who don't practise reading, listening or speaking in English prior to travelling / moving to the UK. Like in everything, start with the basics, find something that interests you and read it in English: could be a children's book, could be an English magazine, a newspaper or even better start reading physio blogs: these are normally written in a more simple way and can help you familiarise with the vocabulary. Watch movies but don't use subtitles to challenge yourself. You can start with films that you have already seen so you don’t miss anything important and progress from there. To be even more productive watch medical-themed series: House, Grey’s Anatomy… Lastly, my personal favourite: listen to podcasts. Podcasts are like the new radio programs but they are available at any time. Make sure you get really good speakers / earphones with clear sound however this might be a bit tricky to start with! Again, start with more simple topics like travelling, hobbies… and progress to physio podcasts: https://player.fm/podcasts/physiotherapy
If you are already in the UK but feel like you still need to improve your English, then make sure to step out of your Spanish/Italian/Brazilian/insert your language bubble as much as possible and explore your surroundings!
- There is also a wide range of English courses on offer. However, if like me you arrive to the UK on a tight budget, there are affordable options too. Local councils have Adult learning centres that offer English courses. Whilst most of the time they are aimed towards British people who want to better their grammar skills, they also offer lessons to foreigners. The price is much more affordable and it is also a great way to get yourself integrated in your community.
- Search facebook groups or meet-ups for language exchange. You can also find similar events on Couchsurfing (especially in the big cities). Also keep an eye for local advertising: where I live there is once a week a group called Polyglot that meets up in a pub, they set up different tables for different languages and you can choose which language you want to practice as well as offering to speak yours.
- This one might seem redundant but... keep reading! If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you can read up on the internet then head to a charity shop (very popular in UK, where you can find almost anything second hand) and buy books from as little as 50p. No excuses!
- Volunteer. Charity organisations are big and numerous in the UK and they are always looking for volunteers for their shops, cafes and activities they organise. For example, Age UK has a program where volunteers visit elderly people and help them do gentle exercise to keep them active. I know first hand that they will love to have volunteers with a physio background, and what a great way to learn how to interact with a potential patient!
Attitude: let’s be English
I obviously do not mean that literally, but what I want to express is that I often see people that emigrate but do not integrate. I am not suggesting you reject friends that speak your own language, but if you want to really improve you need to submerge yourself into the culture. Despite what people say, British people are not cold people (there is a little bit of everything, like in every other country!), just be open and try to make the first step towards meeting new people. The best thing about Brits is that in their polite manners they will never laugh at you if you get confused in a conversation or mispronounce a word! I asked all of my co-workers to correct me whenever I made a mistake and here I am now…
A good and positive attitude gets you further. If you request it people will help you, you just need to communicate. Don’t be embarrassed to make mistakes. I still remember when my colleague (now one of my best friends) pointed out I had been writing ‘ischemic’ wrong in ALL my notes - I just wanted to destroy every proof of my bad spelling so no one in the hospital would see it… I wasn't able to do that, but months later I found myself in multidisciplinary meetings discussing complex patients without thinking about my English.
I hope you understood most of what I wanted to share with you in this post. Hopefully if you are still in the early stages of your learning you have a good translator in your browser, so, like I was told on my first day in England: Keep calm and carry on. :)
Let us know what are your favorite methods to improve your language skills so others can take note of it. Alternatively, you can subscribe to our mailing list so you can keep practising your reading and comprehension skills.
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!