Tiago Villanueva: An overview of medical employment in Europe

Tiago_VillanuevaDoes the name Grzegorz Chodkowski ring a bell with you? It didn’t with me until recently. Chodkowski is a Polish doctor who has worked in the UK, and who created an organisation called Medpharm Careers, which claims to be “Europe’s largest international medical jobs fair.” He and his staff came to Lisbon on 31 March, and contrary to their expectations, thousands of medical students, doctors, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists attended. The majority of the participants were doctors, which just goes to show that job prospects for young doctors in Portugal are worsening significantly.

The medical jobs fair was an opportunity to engage directly with several recruitment agencies from Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, among others. As a GP myself, I didn’t find any potentially interesting posts apart from residential medical officer positions in hospitals in far flung places like Greenland or Saudi Arabia, but the added value of the event for me came from attending a seminar on the situation of medical employment in Europe given by Chodkowski himself. As the majority of participants in the seminar were medical students, he spent most of the time talking about the prospects for young doctors fresh out of medical school wishing to take up specialist training posts in Europe. I learned that, Germany is the only country in Europe by a long way that currently makes it easy for newly qualified doctors to access specialist training in nearly every specialty, with about 10 000 unfilled jobs for doctors, and the trend is likely to continue. The advantages of German postgraduate training are its prestige and recognition around the world, and good pay. He gave the example of certain hospitals and clinics in some countries in the Middle East, which practically just want to recruit doctors who underwent specialist training in the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Germany due to its prestige.

Of course the pulling power of Germany does not affect the fact that the United Kingdom is still considered the Holy Grail and the land of opportunities for doctors around Europe and farther afield. Chodkowski stressed that the problem with the UK is that it is a highly competitive market, and it is nowadays much harder to gain access to employment than it used to be, due to increasing competition from doctors in Central and Eastern Europe, and due to budget cuts in the NHS. Moreover, most UK employers now require UK work experience, unlike in the past, which may be a significant hurdle for those who are applying to work in the UK for the first time. He recommended newly qualified doctors to apply for the Foundation Programme, and to subsequently apply for the specialties with the shortest duration like Accident and Emergency, Psychiatry, Radiology, Microbiology, Oncology, Anesthesia, and Pathology.

I also learned that there is currently high demand in France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Scandinavian countries for doctors who have already completed a specialist training programme, but the greatest hurdle may be mastering French, German, Dutch, Swedish, or Danish to at least a B1 level or higher, according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Many recruitment agencies in these countries have attractive relocation packages for doctors and their respective families including a free language course for a few months and a stipend to make up for the time spent learning a new language on a full time basis.

Participants had the chance to record a video CV for free, which will be available on a secure web platform. The video CV is a 2 minute video where candidates talk about their professional background and aspirations. It has a big advantage compared to standard paper CV’s in that it immediately reveals how well the candidate can speak English and thus allows employers to screen out candidates that are not fluent.

Chodkowski added that there are currently about 4000 vacancies for doctors in Poland, but that he didn’t recommend doctors to take up employment there. And the reason is simple. It is not easy to get into specialist training, so many doctors end up practically begging for some kind of postgraduate training experience, even if that means working for free.

Despite the difficulties that await Portuguese doctors as well as doctors from European countries facing hardships like Spain, Greece, and Italy wishing to work in a foreign country, the grass definitely seems greener on the other side.

So Northern European medical employers, get ready for the invasion of Portuguese doctors, as many are hungry for a slice of the cake.

Tiago Villanueva is a locum GP based in Portugal, and a former BMJ Clegg Scholar and student editor, studentBMJ. He can be followed on Twitter at @tiagoMGF