Refugee Week: an opportunity for refugees and asylum seekers with a background in medicine

An initiative to provide refugee and asylum seeking doctors and nurses an opportunity to gain a key language qualification is being spearheaded at the University of Leicester. The programme supports people with medical backgrounds seeking refuge in the UK to gain confidence and language qualifications through professional exams.

Following the decision of the General Medical Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council to accept the OET – an English language test for healthcare professionals as proof of English competence for registration – the English Language Teaching Unit (ELTU) started offering classes with a full fee waiver to those with refugee or asylum seeker status in September 2018.

Four students took the exam in December 2018 – including two refugees from Syria. All four achieved the GMC requirement of BBBB in listening, reading, writing and speaking.

Frances Jones, the tutor on the programme and driving force behind the introduction of the offer, commented: “I wanted to introduce OET to the English Language Training Unit at the University because I feel that it gives medical staff a real chance to pass the English Language requirement of GMC and NMC registration and to progress more rapidly on to the next stage of this process, since it is an exam set in a medical/scientific context”.

The programme soon enlisted the support of Zeeshan Arif, a junior doctor, who has volunteered his time to help refugee doctors gain the required communication skills.

“The calibre of students is very high and I really enjoy working with them. We have very well-trained healthcare professionals and therefore there is a benefit in exchanging knowledge. Not all the students are refugees or asylum seekers, but it is good to support those who have fled from difficult circumstances. Our programme addresses issues of integration into the UK healthcare system. The nicest thing about the programme is that it brings together motivated people that are willing to learn with those that are willing to teach.”

One of the original participants, who took and passed the exams and now only needs to take his medical exams, said: “Many highly-skilled individuals feel limited to certain roles within the healthcare assistance field rather than becoming doctors. There is a point where they don’t want to become a doctor anymore but the scheme at the University of Leicester is there to give people an extra push which I think is absolutely wonderful.”

Mohannad Shihadeh, another successful participant, said the sessions allowed him to grow in capability to write comprehensive reports and letters whilst also gaining valuable feedback.

Megan Murray, who is currently teaching on the programme, emphasised how the programme helps to ensure that the talent of these qualified medical practitioners is not wasted and is used to benefit our healthcare system. With the support of charity Refuaid, the participants are provided funding to support travel costs and can sit the OET exam for free.

On Saturday 22 June, from 10.00am to 3.00pm, there will be a free OET taster at the University of Leicester for people interested in this scheme. For more information, contact