Finding your dream job can be challenging at the best of times but finding one at the other side of the world is a whole different adventure.
Here is my journey followed by some tips and tricks I learned over the years which could be helpful for others too.
Originally from Germany I studied medicine there and in Italy before moving to the UK after graduating in 2006. After some training in general medicine and paediatrics I changed to GP and finished in 2018.
We decided to move to Australia after my GP training in the UK to rejoin my partner's family.
Initially I tried to work out all the steps necessary to gain registration and be able to work in Australia myself by looking at the RACGP, AHPRA and AMC site but ended up more confused.
After recommendation from a GP friend who had moved to Australia the year before, I started talking to different medical recruitment agencies. I found them to be very knowledgeable and supportive through the registration process. They explained the different steps involved with international recognition of degrees and qualifications, visa requirements, getting registered with AHPRA, the RACGP pathways and Medicare provider numbers, as well as offering different job opportunities and finding me my first job.
After about 18 months of planning, of which I spent 3 months in Australia waiting for my Australian Tax File Number and the Medicare provider number, I was finally able to start working at my first Australian practice in March 2019.
This was a steep learning curve because despite the medicine being similar here to the UK, systems are significantly different. I was very lucky to have started with another doctor who took me under his wings and patiently explained the Australian medical system to me.
About a year later the pandemic hit with its joys and challenges of juggling work, home schooling and numerous restrictions in Melbourne.
For me Covid-19 brought some new opportunities which I fully embraced including working in different Covid positive pathway programs, as well as vaccination work. This work proved to be a fantastic opportunity to meet healthcare workers from different settings and feel much better connected within the Australian healthcare community.
During this period I also gained permanent residency and my initial 2 year contract came to an end.
Whilst my first practice had a lot of advantages it was a fairly long commute from home and I started looking at other work options.
I worked in 2 other GP practices with different billing models moving from initially bulk billing to mixed and then private billing. Neither of them were a perfect fit and I kept researching different options.
I have now finally settled in a community health practice which aligns better with my values. I have finally found the team I missed since leaving my UK practice, as well as the professional development opportunities and a, for my needs, more suitable remuneration model.
Amongst all the changes in work another very important aspect for me was to rebuild my professional networks which I had left in the UK. I got involved with an RACGP committee, participated in the RACGP mentoring program and Future Leaders Program, as well as making the most of other learning opportunities such as the PHN (primary health networks) ones.
Some of the challenges I had and ways to overcome them through the years are here:
- Get help with the initial registration and pathways research and planning the different steps until you can move and start working in Australia. For me this was a mixture of knowledgeable friends (thanks Teddy and Duke!), as well as a supportive agency.
- Your visa status is important: Unless you are an Australian citizen, permanent resident (PR) or have a partner visa you will likely need your first Australian employer to sponsor your visa. This means you are then tied to this employer until you are able to get permanent residency. Once you have PR or citizenship you have more work options. If your contract is finished you can then leave your initial employer.
- Consider your first job well as you are likely going to be there for several years until your visa status changes. By the same token be careful about signing too long contracts. It is hard to get a good feel of a practice with the remote interview process and not being able to actually visit a place. It may even be worthwhile coming to Australia and organising a number of practice visits and interviews before deciding. This could maybe be combined with some of the registration steps which have to be done in Australia like the AHPRA in person identity verification.
- If you are not happy or feel unsafe and unsupported in a job, do not feel you are absolutely obliged to stay there. There are ways to change work including another employer taking over your visa sponsorship. This is not a quick and easy move but can be done.
- The 10 year moratorium significantly restricts IMG (international medical graduates) work options for generally 10 years. IMGs are required to work in a DPA (distribution priority area). This has been further complicated by a practice needing to obtain a health workforce certificate before being able to employ an IMG. This tool allows you to check whether you can work in a specific area during the moratorium period: Health Workforce Locator | Australian Government Department of Health. The time can sometimes be reduced by working in very remote areas: RDWA - Five Year Overseas Trained Doctor Recruitment Scheme (ruraldoc.com.au)
- There are some exemptions to having to work in a DPA during the 10 year moratorium. They are explained here: Section 19AB exemptions | Australian Government Department of Health
- You can use your other experience or further develop knowledge and skills in clinical areas like shared antenatal care, skin medicine or learning and practicing focused psychological strategies. Talk to a colleague or mentor about how to pursue an area you are interested in.
- There are some work options which are not restricted by Medicare such as working in the justice system, working for private companies like BUPA doing visa medicals, Covid related work and some of the hospital positions. Worthwhile exploring as an addition or alternative work option. Unlike GP work which is generally as an independent contractor, working for a hospital comes with leave entitlements, superannuation contributions and at times other benefits like salary packaging.
- Try and rebuild your professional networks. Having lost those friends and colleagues from university, speciality training and working in our home countries can be difficult. There are many ways of building new professional and personal connections in Australia. Amongst those are joining some of the RACGP activities including the mentoring program or even a committee or special interest group, participating in activities through the Primary Health Networks (PHN), looking at social media website such as Doctors down under.
- Enjoy yourself! Don’t let all the red tape, bureaucracy and restrictions on your career dishearten you and continue to enjoy the beautiful career we have chosen.
Here are a few resources to start looking for work