In episode 11 of the Our Voices podcast, we hear the story of Jelena, a doctor who travelled from her native land in order to work in the NHS. Unlike many other foreign nationals who join the health service in the UK, Jelena came here for reasons other than her own professional advancement. In fact, it was her husband’s ambitions of working in the motorsports industry which encouraged her to make the move. Jelena thus found herself in a struggle to adapt to a new environment and a new culture.
Spending just months preparing for and doing the English tests which were required for her to be able to work in the health service, Jelena felt somewhat out of her depth once she reached the UK. She describes herself as being “a smiling penguin” initially unable to understand the many dialects she was presented with and, despite having a working knowledge of the language, remaining tongue-tied and unable to communicate with the people around her. Fortunately, she had supportive colleagues and a registrar who became her mentor and helped her to improve both her English and her confidence: “Everyone was open-minded, helpful and supportive…they told me to read as much as I can and to listen to YouTube videos”. Their advice must have been effective as Jelena’s English is now nothing short of exceptional.
Learning to adapt to a new language and culture has only been part of Jelena’s recent experience, however. The advent of the global pandemic has posed challenges which have had both positive and negative outcomes. One of the positive outcomes has been that Jelena has learnt to appreciate the nurses who support her. Seeing how they have so often borne the brunt of the overload of cases, she has found herself taking on nursing duties in order to allow the hospitals to function effectively. In Jelena’s experience, this has helped to develop greater bonds between doctors and nurses and has greatly improved team spirit: “If you help them, they help you back.”
Jelena has also been forced to adapt to a changing work environment in other ways. She describes always wanting to be a surgeon and relates how much pride she takes in performing that role, yet, as a result of the number of patients impacted by coronavirus, she has been redeployed to the medical team to look after patients. Consequently, she has had to remind herself of all the medicine that she’d almost forgotten, an experience which she understandably describes as stressful.
Working in her new field, she talks about witnessing a colleague getting covid and being shocked by having to care for someone she had previously worked alongside. She also describes supporting a patient who was struggling with anxiety due to being ill and in hospital. An extended conversation with him was all it took for this patient to remember her and express his gratitude in person 6 months later: “He was happy that I had simply understood him…it made my day.” Jelena’s tale helps us to understand just how tumultuous these times have been for our healthcare professionals and just how much courage and resilience they have shown in being able to adapt to the new normal.
Also, if you’re a medical professional who is looking to work in the UK, and you need to pass either IELTS or OET, go to www.swooshenglish.com .