The Savvy IMG

How to find work together as an IMG couple in the UK

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Introduction

When Kimberly and I decided to pursue a postgraduate medical career in the UK, it was a big worry of ours that we would end up on either side of the country and have to live apart. We know this is a big worry for many IMG couples aspiring to migrate to the UK and having experienced this ourselves, we understand the fears.

Unfortunately, it did end up happening to us, and it was a huge challenge that we had to overcome. Living apart was certainly a struggle for us as a doctor couple and we hope that the tips in this article will help you to avoid a similar path!

So how can you get work closer together?

Well the strategies really depend on whether you are applying for training jobs or non-training jobs. Let’s start with training jobs.

Training jobs

Now with official training jobs (ie. residency), it’s more difficult because you don’t apply to individual hospitals, instead you apply to a specialty for the whole UK and you get matched to a job.

Where you match depends on 2 things:

  1. Your rank amongst all applicants
  2. How you order your list of preferred locations or hospitals

Once you are finally matched to a job, the location is set. If you don’t accept the placement, then unfortunately you don’t get a training job at all and you need to reapply the following year.

With the exception of FY1 (UK internship), unfortunately, there is no option to link applications when applying for specialty training whether you’re applying for the same specialty or different specialties.

Also, if a specialty is competitive and has very few seats, then the chances of getting into the location of your choice are lower which makes it even more difficult.

So what should a couple do?

Here are some strategies to get placed together.

1. Both score as high as possible in your applications

Doctors with the highest application scores will get the first pick of locations. Those with lower scores will only get to choose from the locations left over after the higher scoring applicants have made been allocated their choice. So basically, the higher you score the better! This will increase your chances of getting into your preferred location.

But at the same time, if one scores really high and the other scores quite low, it doesn’t work either because one will get matched to a location high up on the list, while the other will get matched somewhere lower down.

So it’s really best if your scores are roughly the same so that you both end up with preferences that are roughly in the same position on your preference list. 

This can be extremely tough to work out, especially if you are applying for different specialties with different levels of competition. In those cases, it can really be a lottery!

We run a Masterclass to help IMGs achieve high application scores and get into their dream specialty, read more on how we can help you.

2. Rank your preferences exactly the same

If you both score highly, it won’t matter unless you list your preferences in the exact same order. If you don’t list them in the same order, then even if you both get a high score, you may end up in different locations!

So make sure to rank your preferences exactly the same and try to list them in order of proximity to each other. That way, even if you end up at different hospitals, they’re not too far apart and you can find somewhere to live in the middle of the two hospitals.

Related: How to rank preferences for UK training jobs as an IMG

3. Request an Inter-Deanery Transfer (IDT)

Once you get matched to your placement and receive your final job offer, you can either accept it and start working there, or decline and reapply the next year. If you accept your post and start work, you can attempt to request a transfer for the following year.

This is called an Inter-Deanery Transfer because hospitals in a particular region are usually grouped together for the purpose of training programmes. These groups are called “deaneries”, so since you’re moving deaneries, it’s called an Inter-Deanery Transfer or IDT.

As you can imagine, lots of doctors make IDT requests each year but not all requests can be accommodated. You will need to prove that you have had “unforeseen and significant change in circumstances” since accepting your training job which can be difficult. You have to show that everything was fine and you were happy with your location when you first accepted the job, but things have now changed.

Each criteria is ranked by priority. You can read the exact wording of each criteria by clicking on the them. 

The trainee has developed a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010 (see below) following the acceptance of an offer of a training post, for which treatment is an absolute requirement and where the treatment, care or social requirements can only be carried out in the geographical area the trainee has applied to relocate to, as confirmed by a report from their Occupational Health Physician, GP or their medical specialist.

The trainee has developed a condition relating to mental health following the acceptance of an offer of a training post, for which treatment is an absolute requirement and where the treatment, care or social requirements can only be carried out in the geographical area the trainee has applied to relocate to, as confirmed by a report from their Occupational Health Physician, GP or other registered clinician providing care for the individual.

The trainee is the primary carer for someone who has significant ill health and/or is disabled as defined by the Equality Act 2010 (see below), expected to be a partner, sibling, parent or child, and these responsibilities have changed significantly following the acceptance of an offer of a training pos t, resulting in the need to move location. Trainees who provide care for a person as part of a group of carers, e.g. a family, are not eligible to apply under this criterion.

The trainee is a parent or legal guardian of a child (or children) under the age of 18 who reside primarily with them, and for whom they have had significant change in caring responsibilities following the acceptance of an offer of a training post, resulting in the need to move location.

Please note: This criterion is based on childcare. Pregnancy is not part of this criterion. A trainee whose sole circumstance is that she – or a partner – is currently pregnant will not be regarded as eligible.

The trainee has had a significant change in personal circumstances due to a committed relationship or the breakdown of a committed relationship that could not have been foreseen following the acceptance of an offer of a training post, resulting in the need to move location.

Please note: a committed relationship refers to the relationship a trainee has with a partner (e.g. boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife) and not with other family members or friends.

Unfortunately IDT is not an easy or straightforward process. Here are some relevant links so you can learn more more about it. Be sure to read the section about trainees who are on Tier 2 visas.

4. One of you reapplies the following year

If you both accept your initial job offers and if your request for IDT is denied or you think you have a low chance of approval, then another option is for one of you to reapply for training the following year.

For example, if you got into Internal Medicine CT1 in location A and your partner was matched to location B, then you will start CT1 in location A, but at the same time reapply for CT1 so that you can move closer to location B next year.

Since the location of one person is already known and fixed, the second person will just need to rank their preferences closer to the first.

It’s not possible to apply directly for CT2. Applications to training are for certain entry points only eg. CT1/ST1 or ST3. 

However, you’re very likely to get your original CT1 year accredited so that even though you’re applying for CT1 again, you can actually start at CT2 level the following year. Each specialty will have their own rules for accrediting previous training when you move deaneries. Be sure to check what your specialty’s rules are.


There are a couple of caveats with this approach that you should be aware of:

  1. You will need approval from your training programme director to reapply with the aim to change location. This should be straightforward in most cases unless your deanery is desperate for trainees in which case they may not be happy to let you move.
  2. Some specialties do not allow you to reapply once you have already started training in that same specialty elsewhere. If your specialty has this type of rule, then it may be best not to accept the job and look into strategy no. 5.

5. One starts training first, the other applies the following year

If the idea of being apart for one year isn’t acceptable to you or your partner, or if your specialty does not allow trainees to reapply for training with the aim to move location, then strategy number 5 is an option.

In this strategy, one of you starts the training job first. The other will look for a non-training job nearby so you can be together. They can then apply for training the following year and base all their preferences around the first person’s location.

6. Ride it out

If one or both of you get into a core training programme or GP training that’s just 2-3 years long but far apart, then there’s always the option to simply start training, live apart, and make it work. You can then try to match closer together at the next stage of training.

This is a really personal decision and you’ll both have to decide whether maintaining 2 separate accommodations is feasible for you, and how you’re going to cope with the long-distance relationship.

Of course, if one or both of you get’s into a programme that’s 6 years or longer, then you’ll really need to consider the pros and cons of living apart for that long. If it were us, that’s simply too long – especially with plans to start a family.

7. Request another Inter-Deanery Transfer

If your request for an IDT was denied before, it doesn’t mean that it will always be denied. If your circumstances change then you can submit another request for a transfer.

Non-training jobs

In the UK, it’s possible to work as a doctor even if you don’t get a job in an official training programme (ie. residency). There are lots of types of jobs outside of the training programmes and we’ll just refer to all of them here generically as “non-training jobs”.

When applying for non-training jobs as a couple, it’s much easier to get into the same hospital or same location compared to training jobs because you have direct control over where you apply.

Related: The best first job in the UK for overseas doctors

So here are the ways that you can find work near each other if you’re both applying for non-training jobs.

1. Apply to the same hospitals

With non-training jobs, you apply directly to the hospital that has the vacancy so you can choose which hospitals you apply for. Because you choose where you apply, you will not end up hundreds of miles apart since you won’t be applying for jobs that are hundreds of miles apart.

So the first strategy is to simply look for jobs at the same hospital or in the same geographic area and submit your application.

It’s even possible to apply for the same job, because sometimes a department can decide to hire more than one person even though the job advert is only for one person. Of course, only do this if you don’t mind working together!

2. One works first then recommends the other

When one person inevitably gets a job first, it may be possible to recommend the partner at the hospital for a job. This doesn’t always work because it’s difficult for hospitals to just create jobs if there is no need, but some couples have found success this way so don’t rule it out.

If you’re the first one to get a job, you can bring this up with your Consultant and they may be able to get you in touch with the right people to inquire about any internal vacancies.

3. One works first then the other applies to the same hospital or nearby hospitals

If there’s no way the first person can recommend the other, then the second person can simply continue applying for jobs the regular way online in the same hospital or at a nearby hospital. This way, the first person acts as the anchor for the location and the second person can fit around them.

Conclusion

Being a doctor couple can be extremely challenging at times, especially if you both want to pursue training! IMGs and UK doctors alike face the prospect of long-distance relationships, but there are ways to work and live together if you’re patient and flexible.

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Looking for a step-by-step guide?

Subscribe to the Savvy IMG and grab your FREE 2-year roadmap to UK residency as an IMG.

free

Looking for a step-by-step guide?

Subscribe to the Savvy IMG and grab your FREE 2-year roadmap to UK residency as an IMG.

free

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Meet the Team

Hi, we’re Drs Nick & Kimberly Tan, the two IMGs behind The Savvy IMG. We write comprehensive guides, create courses, and provide one-to-one guidance to help other overseas qualified doctors on their journey to the UK.
We have scoured the official guidance to put these posts together, but we can make mistakes! If you spot anything that is incorrect, please get in touch and we’ll put it right.
Photo of Dr Nicholas Tan