At some point in your career you may decide you want to spend time working overseas.
Personal motivations are varied; you may wish to literally expand your horizons. Perhaps you want to see medical treatment in developing countries and share knowledge with others or want to work with emerging treatments in the developed world.
You may just want a break from the NHS and training, or be unsure of what to do next and need some time to think.
This section will give you some ideas and resources to explore before making your decision on undertaking work, travel or training abroad.
Your career in medicine homepage
Your next steps
Depending on the stage of your career, you can talk to:
- Clinical or Educational Supervisors
- F1s or F2s who have worked abroad
- Senior Trainees / Training Programme directors
- Other senior staff who have worked abroad
Talk to our team
When can I go?
A career in medicine offers a series of stages where it may be more or less appropriate to take time out. Each stage has its pros and cons and these need to be considered carefully when making a decision.
The ideal time for working or studying abroad will differ from person to person. Think about your individual circumstances and the stage of your training. You may also find our page on taking time out of interest to you.
After Medical School
As long as you abide by any regulations in place from the GMC or UK Foundation Programme Office, it is possible to take time out between graduating from Medical School and starting your Foundation Programme. It is advisable to let the Medical School know your intentions of taking a gap year so that information transfers between it and your Foundation School happen at a later date.
If you’re planning to take time out of your medical career you should also consider how you will keep your knowledge and skills up to date and also refer to Good Medical Practice to guide your decision.
During Foundation Training
A limited number of foundation schools may support an F2 year abroad. In 2020, we believe that just 2 out of 20 Foundation Schools offered this – Wessex and Severn. It is important to check with individual Foundation Schools what their approach is for the training year which applies to you.
It is highly recommended that foundation doctors should discuss their aspirations to take time out with their Foundation School director and review the most up to date guidance.
You may also be able to apply for time out of foundation training through the time out of Foundation Programme process. (note time out is often only granted between the F1 and beginning of F2 for a period of 12 months to avoid foundation trainees becoming out of phase).
Check out the UK guide to Foundation Training under 'reference guides' on the UKFPO website for more information.
Ciara Deall talks about how she organised her F2 training year in Australia
After Foundation Training
This is probably the most popular time for doctors to head overseas for work. They may do so for a year or two and then usually return to the UK for specialty training within three years. In one of their most recent reports, the GMC describe this as now being the norm and highlight that around 85% return to training within three years.
- the current requirement for UK Specialty training applicants is to have evidence of achievement of foundation competences, “in the three and a half years preceding the advertised post start date for the round of application”
- that some specialties want candidates not to have exceeded (usually) between 18-24 months working (post-foundation or equivalent) in the specialty to which they applying.
It's important to check the person specification of the specialty as to any prior experience stipulations. At this stage doctors are often seeking a change of scenery and a break from training after the four to six years at medical school and subsequent foundation training. You may also feel like many other doctors at this stage and be uncertain which specialty you wish to pursue. Time out working abroad may help with this decision.
During Specialty Training
It may be possible to secure relevant opportunities abroad during Specialty Training which could count towards accredited training. It is important to research your options and discuss your interests and aspirations with your Training Programme Directors, and relevant Royal College or training Faculty.
Explore common options for taking time out
If you are considering training in GP, internal medicine, paediatrics or within the acute care common stem programme, the global health fellowship programme allows trainees to apply to take time out of their training (known as Out of Programme for Experience or OOPE), usually after completion of the second year of PG Specialty Training.
The scheme is run through Africa Health Placements in partnership with the training programmes. The process for applying is specific to each of the four UK nations. More information can be found on the GP National Recruitment Website (also applicable for Paediatrics and ACCS trainees).
Global Health Fellowships
After Specialty Training
It is possible to gain employment abroad after Specialty Training which may give you additional experience at senior level. This experience could be a valuable addition to your CV if you decide to apply for senior posts back in the UK.
Doing all your Specialty Training abroad
While it is possible to do all your Specialty Training abroad it is imperative you check your eligibility to practice in the UK when or if you return.
What issues should I consider?
Take some time to consider why you want to work abroad. Will this time add anything to your career? Why abroad and not in the UK? Are you looking to develop personally as well as professionally? Are you trying to test a career idea prior to applying for Specialty Training?
Developed versus undeveloped countries
Both will present different challenges and opportunities so it’s important to think about what you want to gain from your experience. For example developing countries may expose you to more clinical situations at an earlier stage in your career, whereas developed countries could be a better opportunity for further study or shadowing.
Implications of a break
Taking time out to work abroad at any point of your career may interrupt your work here in the UK. Depending on when you do it the break could interfere with continuous service in the NHS, pensions, National Insurance and tax payments.
You will also need to consider what might change in the UK during your time abroad and how you will keep up to date with developments in the UK.
Application timelines and being away from the UK
Depending on when you are planning to work abroad you will need to consider how the break will affect your ability to apply to the next stage of your career in the UK.
For example, if you decide to take time out immediately after Medical School you will not be able to defer your Foundation place, you would need to return to the UK to sit the Situational Judgement Test (SJT) and the process for applying may change while you are away.
Similarly if you work abroad before applying to Higher Speciality Training you will need to keep abreast of the application process and should consider how you will attend interviews.
Returning to the UK
It may seem counter-intuitive to be thinking about your return before you’ve even left the country, but having a well-thought-out plan may ensure you don’t get miss deadlines.
Some things to consider while you’re away
- Be aware of timelines and deadlines for the next step of your career (e.g. Foundation placements, sitting the SJT, Specialty/GP applications, clinical skills refreshment, GMC licensing issues)
- Keep a reflective portfolio or diary so you can evidence your skills and experiences to interviewers
- Find out what evidence of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) the GMC would require on your return. It may be that the country you work in will have similar requirements to the GMC and the evidence you collect for your overseas regulator will transfer across. For example, the Australian Medical Council set out their requirements. Check out the GMC Guidance on CPD.
- Stay connected, or reconnect quickly with your UK networks (e.g. colleagues, supervisors, HEE local Office/Deanery or local Deanery etc.) so that you are kept up to date with developments at home.