Supporting professional development for refugee doctors

20 April 2022

Dr Stephen Nickless discusses his experience of helping refugee doctors during his retirement.

Reawakening a lifelong interest

The years since I retired have been the most enjoyable and creative of my professional life. At a friend's suggestion I trained to teach general English and business English to adult learners. These courses revolutionised my approach to teaching and reawakened my lifelong interest in language. I now know quite a lot about both conversation analysis and corpus linguistics.

I did my GP training in Sussex but spent the rest of my working life in rather more culturally and linguistically diverse contexts in London. I enjoyed the challenge of establishing a trusting professional relationship with patients who spoke very little English and saw the world through very different eyes. My patients included many refugees - from Nazi Europe, the Balkan wars, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Experiences of volunteering

Since 2013 I have been a volunteer at the Refugee Council where I organise a weekly 'professional development group' for refugee doctors. We prepare them for the range of patients and problems they will encounter when working in the NHS, introduce them to UK professional culture and help them to hone their communication skills in preparation for their Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) requalifying examinations.

Last year the GMC recognised the Australian Occupational English Test (OET) as proof of competence in English. This exam was new to the UK so I worked with a language teacher to create teaching materials for our English classes. I created case notes which could be role-played as consultations and then used to practice writing referral and discharge letters. We published these as 'Dear Doctor, English writing skills for clinical practice and the Occupational English Test'. This book should be useful to any doctor planning to work in English for the first time.

Transferable skills

None of this was planned when I retired - I simply took advice from friends and seized opportunities when they presented themselves. Retired GPs have an amazing range of transferable skills which were hard won and should not be wasted. I count myself fortunate to have found something which challenges me intellectually, fulfils me as a person and is congruent with the humanistic and vaguely socialistic values which motivated my medical practice.

About the writer

Dr Stephen Nickless is part of the Later Career and Retired Members community.

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