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Working as an OT in the UK: Top Five Things to Gain Professionally

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I have recently returned to Australia after 5 years of living and working as an OT in London. I clearly remember my reasons for moving to the UK; to travel to Europe. What I didn’t expect was how much I would also develop professionally. Here are the top 5 things I gained professionally from working as an OT in the UK.

1. Respect – Australia OTs are well-respected in the UK!

As OTs, we all know too well what it’s like to be undervalued. Too often confused with Occupational Health, referred to as ‘nurse’ or ‘physio’, and used as equipment dispensing machines. I was surprised at how well respected I felt by health professionals in the UK. I remember being told by a doctor, ‘OTs are the most valuable professionals in the hospital’. It was a nice change from constantly advocating for our role and self-referring which I found was often the case in Australia.

It was also commonly recognised that Australian OTs are of high caliber. I think this is credit to the quality of training we receive in Australia, as well as the 4th undergraduate year we complete (UK undergraduate course is only 3 years).  I also believe the Australian work ethic and proactive attitude contribute to why we are so highly regarded in the UK. Overall, I found it professionally fullfulling to be recognised!

2. Leadership and Career Progression

The demand for OTs in the UK leads to my second benefit; opportunities for leadership and career progression. I moved to London with 2.5 years of OT experience, and my first role was in a London Hospital as a Band 6. To briefly explain, Band 5’s are new graduates, Band 6’s have 2-5 years experience, and 7’s tend to have 5+ years experience. After one year as a Band 6 (and a total of 4 years experience) I successfully obtained a Band 7 ‘Highly Specialist’ role. This is a senior-level role that involves running team meetings, managing rosters and in-services, and hiring staff. There is a lot of potential to progress your career as an OT in the UK and I would not have had the opportunity to have this level of leadership and responsibility if I had remained in Australia.

3. Multidisciplinary Working

The allied health departments I worked in had quite a different structure compared to Australia. Rather than separating into discipline-specific offices, we were grouped by clinical specialty ie. neuro or ortho. This would mean the allied health MDT would all share an office space, and be managed under the same clinical lead. I found this structure a time-efficient way to provide holistic care. Rather than sending an electronic referral to another discipline you could have a chat in the office. It also prevented the struggle of trying to arrange a joint session with conflicting schedules and meetings. This structure also meant I would line manage junior staff of a different discipline. This involved supporting their supervisor (of the same discipline) to develop their professional goals and complete annual appraisals. I felt this was a valuable way to understand and appreciate other disciplines’ clinical expertise as well as their development opportunities and pathways. Working within this structure allowed me to take a much more holistic view of healthcare.

4. Multicultural Working

The UK is incredibly culturally diverse and the NHS workforce reflects this. A lot of my colleagues were not from the UK, and I would commonly work alongside people from Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa. It was a great experience to work in such a diverse workforce, and it was an invaluable way to learn about different cultures and communities. It was also a novelty to be an Australian working in an international health service. Despite frequently having to explain why I left sunny Australia for the rainy and cold UK, it was so rewarding to exchange my own experience and culture with colleagues and patients. Not to mention, the shared lunches of homemade Jamaican fried chicken, Polish pierogi, Israeli sabich etc. Culinary delights aside, working as an OT in the UK boosted my confidence in providing culturally sensitive care, and my ability to promote an inclusive healthcare environment.

5. Friends for Life!

This leads to my final benefit, which is as much personal as it is professional. The people I worked with as an OT in the UK have become lifelong friends. They are from all across the world; Ireland, Wales, South Africa, the Caribbean, West Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, Poland… to name a few! The people who work for the NHS are truly some of the friendliest and most caring people I have ever met. The NHS can be tough and some days really challenging, but some of my fondest memories from my time in London will be from work. There is a real sense of teamwork and comradery. Working for the NHS has made me appreciate how important a positive and supportive workplace environment is, and this is something I have prioritised on my return to Australia.

I returned to Australia as a much more confident and experienced clinician, with an amazing network of lifelong friends. I am such an advocate for taking a working holiday to the UK, I turned it into a full-time job! After working clinically for 8 years, I have put away my measuring tape and I am now working as an allied health recruiter for MediRecruit. I now help people achieve their career goals. Whether that is to embark on a UK adventure, look for a graduate role, or seek a clinical change!

Remember, MediRecruit assists with all the necessary preparations and we’ll secure you great locum roles across the UK. And the best part is… our service is free! If you’re considering a working holiday, contact Clare Jones for a chat – or 0402 367 899.

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