Sabria Islam talks about what it’s like to be an International Medical Doctor this National Doctors’ Day

Image of three passports, one from Malaysia, one from Bangladesh and one from the UK

Who are the IMG doctors?

IMG or International Medical Graduates are, as the name suggests, medical professionals who graduated from outside the UK. The majority of these are not UK nationals but they live and work in the UK with a skilled migration visa until they qualify for a British passport, which most ultimately do over time. Although this term could technically be applied to any graduate in the medical field, in day to day use, it is most often applied to doctors.

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust has IMGs coming from more than 100 countries and IMGs contribute up to 30 percent of the NHS medical workforce, an example of the diversity of the NHS.  

What makes the experience unique?

I believe the experience of international frontline healthcare workers is quite unique. It is a big jump into uncertainties involving finance, culture, language, etc., but it is not only building a life in a new linguistic-cultural environment, it is also about getting involved into that society to the extent that they look up to you for advice regarding life and death.

I remember being asked by a patient on my first rotation whether it is safe to drive a caravan at the moment. I asked him what a caravan is. The humid tropics I grew up in are not the most suitable places for caravans, hence why I had no idea.

While we human beings are excellent and highly efficient at fast adaptation, it is still a process that needs time and effort on both sides. 

How do we know this is doable?

Because thousands have done it in recent times. Thousands of doctors, nurses, therapists, radiographers and other allied health professionals have migrated from all over the world in the recent decades and successfully integrated into the NHS contributing to the UK’s healthcare sector at every level.

Image showing 6 hands in a fist taken on Shipey

Not only in today’s world, but before the existence of the modern visa and passport system, just over 102 years ago, human civilisation as we know it developed and flourished in the presence of relatively unrestricted movement of knowledge, skill and labour. Hence we know it works. We just just need an open mind and a professional, non-judgmentmental, scientific, evidence based approach.

There has been, and continue to be, concerted efforts by Health Education England, the Royal Colleges, Trusts and various other NHS organisations to build up educational and training networks, programmes and services/events to facilitate this integration process. These are all professional institutional efforts that will, no doubt, have a long lasting positive impact on our profession and delivery of healthcare services.

However, on a day to day basis, at a very personal level, I believe what will truly makes a difference is the need to appreciate, on all sides, that life can be lived in many ways, none of which need to be labelled as right or wrong, but just accepted as part of the diverse world we live in. 


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