Doctors should consider benefits of working overseas, BMA says

Authors: Matthew Limb 

Publication date:  17 Sep 2013


UK doctors should view taking time out to work or train overseas, particularly in developing countries, as a “positive career move” that could bring “immeasurable” benefits, the BMA has said.

It has published updated guidance designed to support doctors at all stages of their careers who are considering working or training overseas and to answer concerns they may have ( [Link] ).

The BMA’s chairman of council, Mark Porter, said it was “more important than ever” for clinicians to gain international experience in developing countries, which in turn could also benefit the NHS. But many doctors believed that taking time out could set back their careers, he said, while trainees often thought that the option of working overseas wasn’t open to them.

Porter said, “Working in a developing country should be seen as a positive career move, not a negative one, and we hope that our guidance will help doctors, trainers, and employers to facilitate opportunities for UK doctors to work or volunteer in developing countries. This is also necessary to ensure that the UK meets its commitments to global health and development.”

The guidance says it is “essential” that UK doctors continue to be given the opportunity to work in developing countries. It says they not only help other countries’ health systems but also gain vital skills and return “invigorated” to the NHS, with new ideas and learning, such as about changing disease patterns.

Trainees can develop clinical and leadership expertise and learn how to work with colleagues in new settings. The guidance says, “It is vital that those responsible for approving time out from employment and training for doctors recognise the values of experience from developing countries for professional and personal development and provide advice and support to doctors considering applying to take time out.”

It carries personal accounts from doctors working in such overseas settings and advice on how to find a placement, on how to secure time out from training or employment, and on revalidation requirements. The BMA says that the benefits of UK doctors working internationally are immeasurable while the costs are “minimal.”

Shona Johnston, a specialist registrar in paediatrics who undertook a placement in Freetown, Sierra Leone, described the experience as “fantastic.” She said, “I’m really glad I did it. It has opened up a lot of opportunities for me and has developed my ability to give presentations, teach, and manage teams and individuals. I have a lot of extra things on my CV as a result, and hope it will help my career in the future.”

Matthew Limb freelance journalist London

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: