Are you an overseas oncologist looking to move to the UK? Have you always wanted to hear first-hand the experiences of an international oncologist who has been through the process, from completing their FRCR (Oncology) exams, to GMC registration, securing an NHS job and relocating to the UK?
As part of IMG Stories, we introduce to you, Dr Eric Lee, a wonderful clinical oncologist who relocated to the UK from Hong Kong. Eric has been living and working in the UK with his family after gaining full GMC registration with license to practice.
Today, Eric will be sharing with you his journey and experiences as an IMG oncologist, now working in Colchester in the southeast of England.
Introducing Eric Lee
My name is Eric and I'm a clinical oncologist. I have worked as an oncologist in Hong Kong for 25 years, where I received training in both medical and clinical oncology, in line with the UK system.
Overall, I think the UK system has been so well suited to myself and other generations of doctors and learners, and this was one of my motivations for bringing my family to the UK. Also, for my daughter's education.
Training as a clinical oncologist in Hong Kong
I completed my MBChB and then the FRCR (Oncology) examinations. These were held in Hong Kong with the examiners coming from the UK for assessment. As standard, HK trainees begin FRCR (Oncology) right after becoming medical graduates. Alongside the Royal College exams, you also complete the FHKAM, which is the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine and are the standard qualifications for doctors to complete during their training in Hong Kong.
I began the FRCR (Oncology) training one year after my graduation from medical school. This was in 1996. I spent a total of five years in FRCR (Oncology) training in Hong Kong and received my official FRCR (Oncology) qualification in 2001.
One of the main differences between the UK and Hong Kong systems is that where FRCR (Oncology) tells the medical council that you are almost at the level to work as a consultant. The medical council in Hong Kong has further requirements for doctors transitioning to consultant grade. So, after receiving FRCR (Oncology), I still had to go through 2 to 3 more years of training.
In regards to the Royal College exams, if there's one thing to mention, it's that the examiners are always looking for safe doctors who make patients' safety and comfort their top priority, therefore, my advice for overseas doctors who are looking towards Royal College examinations, especially in oncology, is to remain conscientious and diligent in every aspect of their clinical care, particularly in protecting patients' privacy, rights and safety.
My career as a clinical oncologist
Over the past twenty-five years, I've had rotations in different oncology sub-specialties, including paediatrics, CNS, GI, GU, breast cancer, haematologic malignancies and forensic malignancy. In the last 15 years however, I've been specialising in forensic and genitourinary cancers.
In 2005/ 2006, I had the opportunity to go to Australia for one year for a fellowship. So, I spent almost a year gaining experience in prostate cancer under the supervision of British oncologists in Sydney.
Over the past few years, I've had many thoughts about moving abroad from Hong Kong and looked at several options, including the UK. Finally, it was a Trust in the UK that offered me a job.
This ended up being a very good choice for me, because the UK system is quite similar to medical system in Hong Kong. As an oncologist, I can administer both radiation therapy and chemotherapy, whereas in Australia for example, I'd only be able to practice radiation oncology. So, in the UK, I'm able to use my full training to practice in both medical and radiation oncology.
Going through English language testing
There were several things to consider before I was able to move.
First of all, I had to pass an English language exam. I initially attempted the IELTS exam, but in the end decided to change to the OET exam, because the OET focuses on medical situations, so you don't need to spend too much time going through subjects in other areas.
I managed to achieve a B grade in all 4 sections of the OET exam, which was not easy as my weakest areas are still speaking and writing, and there is of course speaking in the OET exam. You spend 20 minutes speaking in a seminar, similarly to an OSCE. In my exam, I had to take the patient history and give them advice in English.
When the context of the exam is relevant to your specialty e.g. a breast cancer patient, then it’s much easier. However, in the OET exam, the context is not limited to your speciality alone. My tasks for example included two patients with diabetes mellitus and polymyalgia rheumatica. I've not had experience of psychiatry or endocrinology or orthopaedics for many years, but I had to use this knowledge in the exam and act like an orthopaedic surgeon.
Many who take the OET fall into the mindset of a clinical examination and become nervous when presented with a clinical scenario they don’t identify with. My advice to anyone sitting the OET exam is to forget about all the medical things. Forget all your clinical problems. Just relax. Don't worry if your answers aren't 100% correct. What you're expected to do is speak clearly and have an overall caring manner.
The GMC registration process
During the GMC process, I was asked to submit evidence of my continued medical training over the past 10 years because it has been quite a few years since I received my FRCR (Oncology). The GMC wanted to know more about my further medical education over the past 10 years, so I had to submit evidence of all my CME training.
Personally, I'm incredibly fortunate that I've been in the habit of keeping all my certificates of attendance whenever I attend any workshops, conferences or courses, so I have a good record of all my certificates. I spent around a week scanning in all my certificates of attendance from 2002 to 2021, all into one big PDF file.
This advice was given to me by one of my favourite mentors 20 years ago, Dr F.L. Chan, a renowned radiologist in Hong Kong and the warden of the college in Hong Kong. He passed away 10 years ago, sadly, but he gave me some of the most important advice I've been given. He said, 'Eric, you have to keep every one of your certificates, even if you don't see the benefit of the course or workshop, you will find them useful one day'. Since then, I've held onto that advice, and over the last 20 years, I've kept every last certificate in a hard copy!
Finding a job in the UK
I actually posted my CV on LinkedIn and was then contacted by Marcus from IMG Connect. Initially, I wasn't sure if his offer was real as it sounded too good to be true! But I quickly realised that IMG Connect is incredible and could support me with every stage necessary. I personally had a lot of apprehension about the process of moving overseas. I'd been working in a secure job for 25 years, so for me to move from that into the unknown - I would need a lot of support, a lot of counselling. IMG Connect & Marcus were there to provide me with all the support I needed, from day one.
I received job offers from three different Trusts, each with interview processes that began with a stage of informal question, before two rounds of formal interviews online in Microsoft Teams.
Ultimately, the offer from Colchester was the best fit for me. It is the closest to my previous set up, because I had been working in a General Hospital in Hong Kong and Colchester has the same kind of general hospital set up. This position also allows me to work in my subspecialties of interest - GU and forensic cancers.
My journey to the UK
The timings worked out well for me when it came to the move. We spent some time considering whether to apply for the Tier 2 or BNO visa. The Tier 2 visa requires additional documentation like police checks, but before we had to decide, we received the BNO visa in a matter of days and the decision was made for us. Luckily, because of this, things were much easier - with the BNO visa, my whole family - that is my wife and daughter - could come to the UK as a unit.
The pandemic was really an issue because there was a lot of uncertainty about things like flights, and new variants. After we landed here, all the flights from Hong Kong to the UK were cancelled, so we wouldn't have been able to travel until 2022 if we hadn't left at the time we did.
Since I still have many family members in Hong Kong, I was able to leave behind a lot of my property and belongings with them, and only brought my most important belongings with me. This meant that it didn't take too much time for me to pack all my things together to move, but I still had to do things like sell my car.
What I wish I’d known before I moved to the UK
I wish I’d known more about driving in the UK! There are rules here that I'm not used to, like driving in bus lanes. If I'd known about these things earlier, it may have been easier for me.
My experience working with IMG Connect
First, I must mention Marcus Anderson and IMG Connect - they were very helpful and did such a great job. Everything they do is perfectly timed. I couldn’t improve anything!
Over the past half a year, Marcus was in constant contact with me over WhatsApp and email, and whenever I had a question, I'd WhatsApp or email him, and he’d always get back to me with the answers I needed.
What’s next for me and my family?
I still see myself as a someone who is learning, so I'd like to continue with my career development in GU, GI and forensic cancers. I may also try to continue some of my medical studies, for example in palliative medicine, because I know the training for this is very good in Cardiff, where there is a distance learning programme. I'm also looking forward to joining the specialist register for oncology.
My daughter is now enrolled in a private school in Colchester, where the teachers and students are very lovely, so I hope she'll adapt to the system and be able to enter the grammar school here too.
For my wife, she first wants to be able to drive in the UK. She has a driving license, but she's still quite hesitant, so that's a priority for her.
A message to my colleagues in Hong Kong
I have a heartfelt message to my colleagues in Hong Kong, if they are interested in moving to the UK. First of all, there's a lot of negative news in Hong Kong, saying that a lot of good doctors are Hong Kong, leaving those living there unattended. My message to HK doctors is that things aren’t necessarily that bad in HK, but they can be better in the UK.
Moving to live and work in the UK is a big decision to make but can be massively rewarding in many ways. International doctors have the chance to find a new home and the NHS presents an incredible opportunity for IMGs to secure rewarding jobs, progress within their fields and explore adjacent opportunities such as CESR, writing publications, teaching opportunities and research.
Whatever route an overseas doctor may take on their journey to the UK, IMG Connect is here to support them through every step and welcome them to the IMG family.
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