'What? Swedish doctors wear shorts to work?'
Published on: 04 Mar 2014 10:01 CET
Sandeep Jha was studying in Saint Petersburg when he met and fell in love with a Swedish girl, Josefin. He first travelled to Sweden in 2006 on a tourist visa, when he got the opportunity to shadow a doctor at a hospital in Uddevalla, north of Gothenburg, for a few months.
While Jha had already done a one-year practical internship as part of his six-year Russian degree, he found out that if he wanted to stay and work in Sweden, he would have to do it all again - for almost two more years.
Though he faced what the Swedes call "general duty" (allmän tjänstgöring, or AT) as an intern, Jha chose to stay on in Sweden. And despite the mounds of paperwork - for example, sending his Russian grades, degree, and licence to practice to the National Health and Welfare Board (Socialstyrelen) - Jha says that going home to India with a foreign degree would have been ten times worse.
"Moving to Sweden was no-brainer as a young medical student but I soon realized that Sweden is no alien to bureaucracy," Jha says. "Sweden is a country with pretty packaging with loose bits inside but what makes Sweden different is that all those loose bits can be fixed via email and telephone."
While he had pondered moving to the US to practice there, he said the lack of hierarchy at the Swedish workplace was a big draw.
So casual is the Swedish workplace, that one morning on Skype with his father he was met with paternal disbelief at his attire.
"He thought my shorts and sweatshirt were strange to say the least;” Jha recalls. “He expected well-ironed trousers, a shirt and probably a tie. Oh yeah, and he often remarks that I don’t have reading glasses, which, for him, is strange for a medical doctor.”
To get as far as the hospital floor, however, Jha had to jump through a neat set of hurdles, which he summarized thus:
1) Start by applying for an assessment of foreign training
2) Prove you speak Swedish
3) Pass the medical knowledge test – a theory part and a practical part
4) Survive your allmän tjänstgöring (AT) internship (a minimum of 18 months) when you rotate between departments
5) Study and pass a test on Swedish medical legislation
And then finally, the holy grail, apply for your licence to practice.
With financial support from his father, some work as a freelance medical writer, extra work as a carpenter ("the best job ever"), and filling in as a consultant for his girlfriend's father's company, Jha managed to make a living during the process, which in the end took a year and a half.
Then, finally, he was ready to start his paid AT internship at Mora Hospital in central Sweden. He was able to find the internship by continuously clicking into different jobs sites and visiting different hospitals for vacancies.
"All the hospitals in Sweden recruit students twice a year, once in March and again in September," Jha tells The Local.
There, in the middle of the dense central Sweden pine forest, he met his mentor. On rotation through the different departments of the hospital, he came under the tutelage of another immigrant doctor, a cardiologist originally from the Netherlands.
"Cardiology had never been on my mind prior to meeting my mentor," Jha says. "I just really like looking at ECGs, a paper with bizarre waves but tremendous hidden information about the patient's heart.”
“Cardiology can be immensely satisfying as a profession,” he adds. "While saying that, it is an extremely busy speciality. Cardiology patients represent a significant percentage of medical admissions – and there is a huge amount to learn.”
After working for a year, he made his way to becoming a researcher at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Sweden's biggest hospital, located in Gothenburg on the west coast.
As he wraps up his residency to become a cardiologist, he is now himself a mentor to many budding doctors. The role reversal has also given him a chance to compare the medical education systems in Russia and Sweden. The Swedes, he says, are much more hands on, making sure the students are on the floor meeting patients and observing real-life cases, while in Russia students are more tied to their desks studying theory.
Jha prefers the Swedish model.
As he finishes up his residency, at the end of which he will be a fully-fledged cardiologist, he has also built a life for himself in Sweden. Jha became a father just two months ago and in his spare time he's the secretary and a batsman for the local cricket team GCC.
"I play cricket for Gothenburg, which is an uncommon thing for a doctor, and that in Sweden too," he says