Refugee doctors are an asset to the NHS - Refugee Council
February 8, 2016

Refugee doctors are an asset to the NHS

After retirement from 40 years as deputy head of a London secondary school, Tony was inspired to become an ESOL teacher following conversations with his local Big Issue vendor. Now, he is a volunteer English teacher at the Refugee Council, helping refugee doctors re-qualify to use their skills in the NHS.

There’s a real frustration among my students. Ahmed*, a surgeon from Syria, is worried that he is losing his skills as he spends longer and longer periods not practicing his profession.

Doctors must pass the tough IELTS English test before taking their medical exams. It may take 2-3 years to reach the score required by the General Medical Council.  For many refugee health professionals, this test is the biggest obstacle in the process of re-qualifying. Alongside this, they need a sound knowledge of the labour market and recruitment process as well as relevant work experience.

Obi, a refugee from Nigeria now working as a doctor in A&E in the NHS found re-qualifying in the UK really challenging; the process can take years. Many refugee doctors work to support themselves and study at the same time. Helal, a refugee doctor from Afghanistan, worked with the British army and was targeted by the Taliban before he fled to the UK. Helal passed IELTS in 2014, after 3 years of studying. Last year he passed both medical exams and has finally obtained licence to practice.

Farkhanda, a refugee from Afghanistan, studied medicine for 5 years before the Taliban closed down education for women. With the help of the Refugee Council she now has a job in a London hospital.

Did you know? It costs an average of £294,000 to train a new health professional in the UK. For the same cost, 10-12 Refugee Health Professionals can be retrained to practice in the UK each year.

One of my students and I met every week to study. He worked his socks off. He passed his exams and now runs a training course to help other refugee re-qualify to work in the NHS.

What’s kept me volunteering for so long is that I love it. It is frustrating and challenging, but I am using my skills to enable other professionals to one day use theirs again. Refugee Health Professionals have a lot to offer when they arrive in the UK, but the return to practicing can be a long and complicated process. They are an asset to the healthcare system.

*names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals.