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Working Abroad as a Doctor: What to Know Before You Go

by Carrie Noriega, M.D.

Are you always the first one to say "yes" to an adventure? Have you always wanted to immerse yourself in a new culture? Then working abroad may be for you.

If you were to ask a doctor who has worked abroad whether or not they would recommend it, you are likely to hear something along the lines of, "Absolutely! It was a great experience, but it definitely isn't for everyone."

While this statement is certainly true, it is often hard to explain exactly why it isn't for everyone. The number of reasons that doctors will give for working in another country are likely to be just as varied as the reasons that they will say not to go.

One reason that doctors go overseas to work is to experience a new way of practicing medicine. This is especially true for doctors from the United States, who are often seeking a break from the challenges of working within the U.S. healthcare system.

U.S. doctors will probably experience fewer "hoops" that they have to go through to provide patients with the medical care that they need. This can be a refreshing part of working in a new system.

Working abroad can also be an opportunity to get paid while experiencing a new culture first hand. For instance, many doctors with children find the opportunity of immersing their kids in a foreign culture to be an invaluable experience for the whole family.

Learn about the challenges that working abroad as a doctor is likely to bring, and what the best options for getting a job in another country are.

Things to consider before you sign up

Working in another country is not necessarily going to be a vacation. Many of the positions open to foreign doctors are in rural areas that have high need, so you are likely to be very busy in your new facility.

There is also a steep learning curve that comes with working in a foreign country. You will need to learn a whole new healthcare system that may have different drug formularies, unfamiliar names for surgical instruments, and new processes for getting patients through the medical system.

Living abroad also presents you with many cultural challenges. Depending on the country in which you work, you may have to brush up on your foreign language skills. And even if you are working in a country that speaks your native language, you will probably need to get acquainted with a new accent, which can take some time getting used to.

Staying connected with family and friends can also be challenging. Technology has certainly made long distance communication easy and affordable, but working across different time zones can still present problems.

Furthermore, if you are coming from the U.S., you may be liable to find that salaries are significantly lower than what you might be used to at home. In order to make it work financially, you may have to do some financial planning prior to your move, so that you can meet your financial obligations while you are away.

Another challenge you may experience is the lack of control that you are given over your schedule. Many doctors find that they are given a fixed schedule when they arrive for work that they have to adjust to. The number of patients you need to see and the procedures you must perform are also likely to be pre-set, with little room for change.

This may be especially difficult if you are coming from a private practice, where you have total control over your schedule. But if you are undeterred and ready to face your adventure, we have practical tips that will help to get you on your way.


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