Tag: germany

Working as a doctor in Germany: things to know before you start

Despite little activity on my blog these days, I’ve noticed that one old text has been getting an increasing amount of attention since I published it some 3 years ago: Surprising things about being a doctor in Germany.

In addition, I’ve been getting a number of personal e-mails from medical students and junior doctors from around the world asking for more information and advice on the subject of potentially starting out as a doctor here in Germany.

So, here are a few of my personal experiences and tips from the perspective of a British-trained doctor who moved over to Germany in 2009. I have a fair bit of information to share, so I plan to write about it over a series of texts. I hope this helps some of you.

Before you start

1. Have I got a good chance of getting a job as a doctor in Germany?

Short answer is yes. Germany does need doctors at the moment. It of course depends on your speciality of interest and your place of interest. The chances of getting a job in smaller or less attractive cities is obviously higher than for example a renowned university teaching hospital. But it’s a big country and there is a lot of choice at the moment.

2. Is my medical training recognized in Germany? What documents do I need?

Before you start actively looking for a job, it would be best to check with the regulating body here what the requirements are for having your medical degree recognised and subsequently obtaining a license to practice.

Each ‚Bundesland‘ has its own governing body (for example ‚Ärztekammer Nordrhein, Bayerische Ärztekammer etc). I suggest you pick your place of interest in Germany and enquire at the local Ärztekammer there, but bear in mind that there may be differences between the states.

Applying from a member state of the EU

In general, applying from within the EU is more straightforward than from outside and incorporates getting high school/university certificates translated, references from bosses, security checks from your home country and assurances from your governing body that your medical degree is in line with the standards set by the EU. The usual occupation health issues such as HIV status, immune status against hepatitis as well as a medical certificate from a doctor assuring a good bill of health is also required. The Ärztekammer I applied to refused to look at any documents until they were officially translated from English into German to tell me if they were the correct ones (despite the fact that they could clearly read and understand English). This is therefore a costly and time-consuming process (both in terms of money and your nerves). In the end I got my registration one day before I was due to start work.

Applying from outside the EU

For those outside of the EU, things can get a little trickier. Depending on the structure of your medical training, it can require extra (un-paid) placements and a medical viva to check your knowledge and skills, in addition to the above paperwork. I would check all of this out before your decision to move here so that you can plan your finances and expectations appropriately. From what I gather, things seem to be decided on a very individual basis.

3. How good does my German have to be to work here?

Germans institutions often ask for the Goethe-certificate level B2. This is a requirement for university entrance and acquiring citizenship for example and is a good rule of thumb before you start work here, regardless of whether it is an official requirement or not. For your own sake. It is a level which just about gets you by in conversation and in reading and writing although far from ensuring an easy start. I found that whilst doctor colleagues and allied healthcare professionals spoke and understood english at varying levels, patients (especially the older ones) generally did not and furthermore expect, quite naturally, to be communicated with in their native language.

Tips for improving your German language skills

Like all languages, your German will only get better through use. If like me at the time, you are starting from scratch, there is nothing like living in the country, reading local newspaper, watching Germany films and making friends to improve your fluency.

I did a one month intensive language course (level B2) before I started work. It was a brilliant way to start my life in Germany and is a September I look back on with immense fondness. I made some great friends from this course from all over the world and went to some great parties. It was the ERASMUS year I never had. Aside from the social side though, it was a good foundation for my language skills.

Throughout the year, I met weekly with a friend from Argentina who had been living in Germany for a few years and wanted to improve her English. We would talk for 30 minutes in English and then 30 minutes in German. Over the years, this turned into wonderful evenings of drinking red wine over bowls of delicious pasta in favorite local restaurants and a lasting friendship. And of course we improved our language. It’s quite easy to find a so-called ‚Stammtisch‘ through Facebook groups days to achieve something similar.

That’s it for today. I will write about the medical training system in Germany and some practical tips about looking for and applying for jobs in further posts!

How to be German (a very British point of view)

1. Unlearn the art of queueing.

Think about everything you ever learned about queueing – from early memories at theme parks where  kids who queue-jump get escorted in shame by staff to the back of the line, to the sniggers and muttered words directed at adults who attempt to cut a queue – and forget it all. Yes, you have been cultivating this art for years, but now you need to adapt to your new environment. Here’s a rough guide:

  • If you notice that a new line is about to be opened at a supermarket check-out, don’t bother allowing the person in front of you to go before you and instead fully take the advantage to jump a few places yourself.
  • When fellow passengers stand swarming around the airport gate waiting to board, stay firmly seated reading your paper until the gate actually opens and then attach yourself carelessly somewhere near the front of the swarm. There will be so many of you jollying for a better position in this way, that your rude behaviour will go unnoticed.
  • Beware of little old ladies, they are often the meanest and best at the queue-jumping game. Don’t be taken in by their outward appearance of frailty.
  • Don’t ever, ever expect to hear the words ‚after you‘.

2. Develop a taste for sparkling water.

Even if they are too polite to say it, your German guests will expect to be offered sparkling water at your dinner party. Make sure you have a 6-pack at home so that you are prepared for such occasions. I have even known patients to complain because the sparkling water provided by the hospital was not sparkling enough. Be aware that there are indeed varying grades of sparkling water so that you know how to provide alternative options in emergency cases. Try and wean yourself onto drinking sparkling water and get used to paying for your water at restaurants. Requests for tap water are uncommonly heard.

3. Learn about bread.

Thought bread could just be white or brown? Think again. Here’s the minimum in vocabulary you need to be armed with before setting foot into a bakery:  toast (what you know as white bread), weiß (white – the white bread you know but without the added butter), vollkorn (wholemeal), mehrkorn (multi-grain), roggen (rye) and dinkel (spelt). That’s the basics. Be prepared for regional variations (Berliner Landbrot, Schwarwalderbrot, Rheinisches Schwarzbrot are a few examples) which may throw you. Once you’ve said your goodbyes to white, fatty bread, you will never look back. There will come a time when you will be pining for Germany bread if you are away for longer periods. Warning: some dinkel varieties can be extremely hard. Knee-caps can be hurt when carrying shopping bags home and teeth could potentially be chipped, particularly if the bread is a couple of days old.

4. Learn the work etiquette.

  • The standard way to answer the phone is ‚Surname, hallo‘ in a slightly questioning tone. Or if you prefer to be a little brisk, just your surname will do. While you’re at it, learn to refer to yourself as Frau or Herr so-and-so. In your daily working life, you will rarely be called upon by your first name.
  • Use the formal you (Sie) for anyone who looks older than you or who is more powerful than you. When in doubt, side-step the use of the word ‚you‘ until they address you as either ‚Sie‘ or with the informal ‚du‘. You’re not expected to get this right straigt away as a foreigner, but it will get you taken more seriously.
  • Introduce yourself to everyone and anyone you see at work when you start. Otherwise you will be known as the impolite new colleague who didn’t introduce themself.
  • Say good morning to every person you encounter on the way to your work-station every day. Just a nod or a smile will not do. And even if you are in a hurry or in a bad mood, looking the other way and pretending you did not see them will not work. You have to greet everyone. Everything else is considered rude.

5. Learn to defend the restaurants and food in the UK.

Every so often, acquaintances will choose to press upon you their thoughts on the terrible state of British cuisine – most commonly based on a first-hand experience gained as a 16 or 17-year old some 20 odd years ago. They will be immune to any of your attempts to explain that this is really no longer the case. Many are so traumatised from these early experiences that they can neither be persuaded to make another visit to see for themselves, nor to refrain from making similar unfounded comments at a later date.

6. While you’re at it, expect to have to defend the NHS.

At some point you have to accept that the NHS has a bad reputation in Germany. But you will be overwhelmed by a sudden maternal instinct to stick up for the NHS and find yourself uttering something about ‚free at the point of care‘ with venom and just a little bit of pride in your voice. It may be ok for the Brits to criticise the NHS, but it is certainly not ok for outsiders to do so.

7. Learn to make the right sounds. 

Yes you’ve been bravely battling with articles, irregular verbs and sentence orders. There’s no way around that. But get the sounds right too. This will lend authenticity to your speech despite your strong British accent. Here are a few examples to get you started. Keep your ears open to pick more up along the way.

Puh: sound of complete exhaustion.

Aua: ouch.

Hä?: huh?

Oje: oh dear

na ja: oh well

8. Learn to love ‚Tatort‘.

If the Germans are honest with themselves, they will admit that ‚Tatort‘ (literally crime scene) is nothing but a mediocre weekly television crime series. Mediocre script, mediocre production and mediocre acting. But it’s been running since 1970 and partly because of reasons of nostalgia, everybody loves it. The series is set in a different German city every week, so that most people have their favourite commissar.  If you want to integrate quickly (and by the way it’s not bad for practicing your German listening skills and acquainting yourself with regional accents), learn to settle down to it every Sunday evening at 8.15pm so that you can take part in all Tatort-related discussions with your colleagues on a Monday morning back at work. Keep an eye out on your Facebook timeline feed on a Sunday afternoon, as occasionally reports will be bandied about that tonight’s Tatort episode is a particularly exceptional one. This is code for ‚watchable‘ for all non-Tatort lovers.

9. Say goodbye to pubs and hello to bars and cafes.

 The Germans are good at beer. If you are a beer lover, you will be in heaven. But don’t expect to find a friendly local pub and say goodbye to the tradition of a quick after-work pint. The ‚old-man’s pubs‘ or ‚Kneipe‘ in Germany are very literally reserved for old men. On the plus side, you will be stunned by the myriad of bars and cafes that are on offer in every city. The strong coffe and cake culture along with the wonderful options for brunch will leave you underwhelmed by Costa Coffe and Starbucks when you head back to a British highstreet.

10. Visit an ice-cream shop.

 Thought that ice-cream parlours are something that belong to 50s America or to countries with warmer climates?  The weather is not really any better than it is in the UK, but summer means ice-cream shops. You should be able to locate one around the corner from where you live. Meet friends for an ice-cream and revel in the many flavours and forms. Small tip: try the spaghetti ice-cream.

9 places you should visit in Germany in 2014

It’s easy to forget how diverse a country Germany is and just how much it has to offer. Living here has opened up parts of Germany I would never have thought to visit. Here are 9 places you should visit in Germany in 2014.

1. KIEL – in itself, Kiel would not be at the top of a must-see list for Germany. However, it is worth visiting this northern sea-side city in June during the Kieler Woche – the world’s largest sailing regatta. Even if you have no experience of sailing, you will be taken in by the buzzing maritime atmosphere. If sailing is not your thing, head to one of the nearby beach resorts (for example at Strande) and rent yourself a typical ‚Strandkorb‘ (literally sand basket) for a day – a cosy and sheltered way to enjoy a book, whatever the weather and a good introduction to the beloved Ostsee (Baltic sea).

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2. HAMBURG. You will not meet a single German who does not gush over Hamburg. For good reason. A guided boat ride through the harbour learning about one of Europe’s busiest ports, a walk through the fishmarket and dinner in a restaurant in the portuguese quater make for the perfect day out. And that’s not even mentioning the still-under-construction and architecturally fascinating Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic Hall) or the relaxing atmosphere around the lake Alster. For a fun outing for both grown-ups and kids, visit the ‚Minatur Wunderland‘, the world’s largest model railway and seemingly a parallel world. If you still have an afternoon to spare, take a 30 minute ride out to the suburb of Blankenese for a walk through the ‚Treppenviertel‘ down to the river Elbe. So picturesque, you will wonder if you are in the make-believe Lilliput lane.

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3. Bike tour in BRANDENBURG. This eastern state stretching out and around Berlin is under-explored even by its natives.  Flat, open and often newly re-surfaced roads cut through fields and leafy trees passing through barely inhabited hamlets and villages – ideal for a bike tour. Century old churches and castles dot the landscape as well as country mansions with dramatic lakeside views (such as Haus Tornow) at affordable prices.  Enjoy the tranquility of the area and take the perfect opportunity to practice any German you learnt at school, as knowledge of English is patchy in this area. Those in search of a little bit of luxury should head to Gut Klostermühle for some rest and relaxation in its saunas and spa.

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4. Wine tasting at DURBACH. The picturesque town of Durbach perched on the hilly wine fields in the black forest is the perfect spot for a long weekend. Summer or winter, this place will not disappoint. Grab an apple from an unmanned stand and leave your fare in the honesty box, hike on the  through the wine fields up to Schloss Staufenberg and spend the evening at a winzer sipping the local wine –  you’ll be sure to go home with a case or 2 of Riesling. 

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5. MUNICH. The crown-jewel of the southern state of Bayern has a rich, showy and opulent flavour. You will be greeted by yet another stunning church, mansion or column at every corner you turn. Take a walk along the river Isar, stroll through the boutiques at Haidhausen and relax at a beer garden in the world famous English gardens. Whether you like beer or not, don’t leave before trying the speciality wheat beer (Weissbier). If you do like beer, there’s a little something called ‚Oktoberfest‘ waiting for you to arrive in your Dirndl/Lederhosen at the end of September every year.

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6. BERLIN. I’ve already mentioned some of the reasons I love Berlin. Start with a long breakfast at the French cafe Fleury in the district of Mitte before browsing through the small boutiques in the area. Take in some culture in the clutter of museums on the magnificent Museuminsel (museum island). On a sunny day, bring your swimming things and jump into the the Badeschiff or hang-out at one of the many stretches of white sand at a beach bar along the river Spree. If you’re feeling adventurous, try your luck at getting into the much-hyped techno-club Berghain. No one really understands the door policy, but the more individual you look, the higher your chance of a first-hand experience here.

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7.THE EIFEL. No not the big tower in Paris, but rather the low mountain range in western Germany – an underestimated area of beauty. A volcanic area centuries ago, the Eifel belongs to the Rhenish Massif. Bring your hiking boots and enjoy the many walking routes in this area. Monschau, Nideggen and Blankenheim are just a few of the picture perfect towns to gather supplies before you start off on your trek and for coffe and local cake (order a Streuselkuchen) at the end of a solid day of walking.

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8. Island-hopping at SYLT and FÖHR. Though I’ve never been there, these North Sea islands are adored by Germans. Take the whole family and spend a week in a holiday home – just remember to book well in advance. While Sylt is good for celebrity spotting, Föhr is a little quieter. Take a walk from Utersum through the wildlife protection area for nature at its purest, trample on sheep dung and traipse back to the small beach at Utersum, where people gather to enjoy the best sunset on the island. While Wyk and Nieblum count as the touristic hotspots, don’t miss out on the magic of Witsum. (Photos and tips courtesy of Thorsten Firlus)

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9. DÜSSELDORF – my surrogate ‚home-town‘ can’t be left out. And you may just end up on a business trip here. If you do, wander through the beautifully preserved Altstadt (old town) and spend a summer evening sipping white wine at the roof-top terrace of Düsseldorf’s most important music hall – ‚Der Tonhalle‘ and enjoy spectacular views across the Rhein. Or if you prefer, tuck into Bratwurst and the local Alt-beer a few hundred metres down the road at the river-side beer garden.

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