Our guest blogger, Dr Caroline Walker, is a full-time Doctor’s Well-being Specialist, a Psychiatrist and Therapist for NHS Practitioner Health and Founder of The Joyful Doctor, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the wellbeing of caring professionals through coaching, training, and anti-stigma campaigning. She is an international role model for doctors with mental health problems and believes that we are human beings first, doctors second. In an upcoming webinar, Dr Walker will be sharing her top tips on staying well as an international doctor as part of our Healing Our Healers initiative by Remedium Cares.
The Challenges of Working in Medicine
Working in medicine brings many challenges, even on a good day, and working in the NHS as an international doctor poses unique problems.
International doctors may face mental health problems and well-being struggles – but it isn’t all bad news! There is a growing awareness of the challenges faced by this motivated, dedicated and highly resilient group of doctors, and growing support services to support them with their unique set of challenges working in the NHS.
There are also many simple things that you, as an international doctor or the colleague of an international doctor, can do to protect your/their mental health and well-being, and learn to thrive both at work and at home.
In this blog, I would like to introduce some of the key themes we will be talking about in our upcoming webinar on this topic and offer some simple tips and techniques for you to start thriving today.
First Thing’s First
All human beings have ups and downs in their lives. We all face challenges at some stage and doctors are no exception to that. It is ok not to be ok.
There has been a lot of emphasis on ‘building resilience’ within the medical workforce in recent years. It is important to remember that doctors are some of the most resilient individuals on the planet. Our day-to-day jobs require extraordinary levels of skill and stamina, and for international doctors there can be even greater demands on your body, mind and soul.
So please remember – you are inherently resilient. It is normal to struggle sometimes and there is help out there if you need it. Taking care of your mental health is an important part of your duty to care for patients and small changes can yield big results and make you a happier, safer doctor overall.
Managing the Challenges
Whether you are a doctor who has trained in another country and is now working in the UK, or you have trained in the UK and are now working abroad, you may experience some of these common challenges faced by international doctors:
Loss of connection and belonging
As human beings we have a deep need for connection with others, in particular those we can identify with, who have shared characteristics or values, and those who have a shared upbringing and cultural background. Without this type of connection, we can feel isolated, withdrawn and lonely, and are at greater risk of developing mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
We also have a deep need for belonging – to be accepted as we truly are in the environment we are in. International doctors often find themselves far from home, disconnected from loved ones, and may find it hard to relate to their new colleagues. The key to building a sense of connection and belonging as an international doctor is not to try to ‘fit in’ or change yourself, but to connect with those who allow you to be who you really are. Seek out colleagues who share your interests and values and keep in regular contact with loved ones back at home as often as you can. Surround yourself with familiar objects, foods and smells to help your brain evoke a sense of connection to your home environment.
A common source of stress among international doctors are practical issues such as arranging work visas, passing exams, and navigating new housing, travel and banking systems. The good news is that millions of international healthcare professionals have trodden this path before you and with the dawn of the digital age there are countless avenues of support available to access their wisdom and advice. Most Royal Colleges now have initiatives to support international doctors working within their fields (have a google!) and social media platforms like Facebook can provide helpful private group spaces for doctors from different backgrounds to connect with peers and get support.
Cultural differences and injustices
Many international doctors come up against challenges relating to language and cultural differences. Thankfully many organisations within the NHS are working to reduce this imbalance and to find ways to support their international colleagues better. As an individual it is important to remember that these issues are the responsibility of the group/ community/ organisation, and not yours to carry. These situations can often feel very personal and unfair. Try to hold onto the truth – that you are a highly-trained, highly-skilled, dedicated and compassionate professional doing the best job you can. And remember that, as an international doctor, you can access all the same support structures available to any other doctor working in the NHS, for example: your supervisor, line manager, your guardian of safe-working, human resources, occupational health, staff well-being and counselling services and external support organisations.
What if I am really struggling?
Thousands of doctors struggle with their mental health every year. The good news is that doctors respond very well to support and treatment when they access the help they need. If you are worried about your own mental health, or that of a colleague, please reach out for support. You can contact your own GP or access free and confidential mental health advice and support from NHS Practitioner Health (link below).
How can Remedium help?
At Remedium, candidate care is our top priority. We are passionate about placing healthcare professionals into organisations they will thrive in – which is why we focus on matching individuals with organisations and areas we know they will love.
We know moving to the UK to work in the NHS is daunting and can be a big step. Our dedicated onboarding team are here to support you throughout your journey – from helping you prepare for interviews, to support with your visa application all the way through to helping you secure accommodation and find a network in the UK. Your onboarding executive will be there for you throughout the entire process from start to finish and beyond. Our digital relocation software, Red Carpet, can also assist clinicians in their move to the UK, helping with administrative tasks.
Once you start your new role, we will periodically check in to see how you are doing, as well as invite you to our networking and well-being events to help you fully settle into life in the UK.
Want to hear more?
If you would like to learn more about the specific ways you can prioritise your mental health as an international doctor, then please email us for a link to the recorded webinar at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Need confidential support now?
Visit NHS Practitioner Health at www.practitionerhealth.nhs.uk for free and confidential metal health support
Visit The Joyful Doctor at www.joyfuldoctor.com for a list of over 50 free support resources for doctors
Text FRONTLINE to 85258 for 24/7 text support