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Sameer Kulkarni: A doctor in Berlin

Doctors are in high demand in Germany, especially with specialisation in psychiatry. Nonetheless, the road to a medical licence can be a long one – as Sameer Kulkarni, a young doctor from India, knows. In this interview, Sameer shares his experience on the recognition procedure for doctors in the state of Berlin, job hunting in the capital and how to prepare if you want to embark on the same journey.

ProRecognition: What made you consider going to Germany?

Sameer Kulkarni: I completed my primary medical qualification from Russia, and after that I completed my 3 years MD in Psychiatry in Russia. I also worked there before going back to India, but then I developed interest in research – particularly in Central Nervous System (CNS) research or the same field in which I pursued my education. Therefore, I started exploring opportunities outside India. And obviously, Germany topped the list.

PR: Did you already know what you to expect before the consultation with ProRecognition?

SK: Before visiting the IGCC office, I did a bit of research about recognition in Germany. I also have friends in Germany, who gave me tips regarding the recognition process, so I was aware of the language barrier. However, before starting a German language course I wanted to have a proper plan on how to go ahead. Therefore, I went to ProRecognition in order to understand: What’s important? How should I begin?

PR: How did the ProRecognition consultation help you with strategizing your entire plan?

SK: Like I said, I just visited ProRecognition to get more information about recognition offices in different cities and states in Germany. I was advised to decide on what I want to do in Germany: Is it doing research or working as a doctor? Those two are different fields. I decided that I wanted to work. Accordingly, I was advised on which documents to prepare in which order for the recognition procedure. After a couple of months, I went to ProRecognition once again to verify that my documents were corresponding to the requirements. And after that I started planning for my visa application.

PR: How many months did it take till you were ready to travel to Germany?

SK: As I was a complete beginner to the German language, I decided to first focus on this. The B2 certificate is a prerequisite for the recognition application, so I completed with my B2 level, and only after that I started with the visa process. After that, I decided to enrol in a course in Berlin.  I booked a 2-months course of B2 and C1 and another 2-months course for medical German.

PR: Why not go directly for a C1-level medical German course?

SK: Suddenly going from B2 in India to C1 medical in Germany is difficult. It might require more than 3 or 4 months till you are ready for the Medical language exam (Fachsprachprüfung). Even for others, I would suggest that before going for medical C1 you should revise your B2 grammar skills and writing skills at least for one month.

PR: Learning German, preparing documents … – all this takes a lot of time. Would you recommend that people should quit their jobs before starting this process?

SK: I was doing my language course along with my job, so I did a weekend course. Of course, during exam time, you need more time for preparation. I still would suggest to only quit your job when you have your visa in hand.

PR: Tell us a little bit more about what happened after you reached Germany. Did you directly apply for permanent medical licence (Approbation) or a temporary one (Berufserlaubnis)?

SK: After I landed in February 2018, I was pursuing my language course in Germany, side by side looking out for opportunities in which city can I apply for Berufserlaubnis or Approbation with the set of documents which I had at that time. Berlin was the only city I had ever visited in Germany and I had quite a few friends there, so eventually I decided to approach the local office in Berlin.

PR: What advice would you give people on how to identify where in Germany to apply?

SK: Well, that’s based on individual preference, I would say. Some people find cities like Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Munich very attractive. Then again, like all metro cities, they’re expensive. And if you want to begin your career and pursue your Approbation or Berufserlaubnis process, initially you are not allowed to work. So, if you have sufficient funds to survive, then go for it! But if you’re short on budget, I would suggest any tier two city is fine because the infrastructure is the same across Germany and the hospitals are well equipped.  It’s not like what we have in India, where there’s a big difference in infrastructure between cities and villages or small towns. Also, you have a lot of job vacancies in small towns in Germany.

PR: Once you decided on applying in Berlin, what was your next step?

SK: In Berlin, you have to book an appointment online before you approach any government office. However, getting an immediate appointment isn’t that easy. There’s a large number of people applying for appointments. I tried to get an appointment as early as possible, but the earliest I could get was for August or September – six months after I arrived in Germany. My friends told me to keep on checking every day, since some appointments get cancelled. I did that and within a couple of days I was fortunate enough to get an appointment for the very next month. So, I submitted my documents in March and waited. If there are some documents missing or if the officer wants more documents or clarification, the authority will contact you only by post. Apparently, by now some office are also corresponding via email, but in my case, mail or by phone didn’t work unfortunately. After six weeks, I got a confirmation that my application had been received and additional documents were requested. It might take quite a few months till you get a decision on your documents and on your application. If you need to pass Fachsprachprüfung, which is the medical German language test, it will take even longer. Eventually, I got my Berufserlaubnis in October 2018.

PR: A lot of people come to us with the expectation that within 6-8 months they will get their Berufserlaubnis, probably even get their Approbation and find a job. What is your take on this?

SK: I don’t want to demotivate anyone here, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. 6 months is really, really super-fast. I would say that one and half year is sufficient enough to get at least the Berufserlaubnis, or at least to start working. Rather expect that from the visa application till your Approbation it might take a few years. You have to keep your feet on the ground and face the reality. German offices have their protocols, they have their rules, and they follow them strictly. It doesn’t work the way it works in India; you can’t just go to the office and request them to somehow speed up your process. German authorities work it according to their calendar, according to their capacity, according to the case. You have to be very, very patient.

PR: What happened after you finally received your Berufserlaubnis?

SK: Once I received my Berufserlaubnis, I wrote a letter to the authority requesting them to work on my Approbation application, and only after that I was allowed to appear for the Fachsprachpruefung. I got the appointments for the exam from the Berlin medical council. I just had to submit the proof that I had submitted my application for Approbation. As far as I remember, I was given three options: The first option was immediate, the second within the next 3 months, and the third within the next 6 months. So, depending upon your preparation, depending upon your confidence, on your skills, you can select which one you prefer.

PR: What advice will you give people preparing for the Fachsprachprüfung?

SK: You need to have very good knowledge of B2 grammar because when preparing for the Fachsprachprüfung, you are going to learn a lot of new medical terminology – and some words are as long as an entire sentence! So make sure that you are able to grasp those things within a short period of time. Also, keep on listening to radio programmes, watch German series or movies. The patient probably will use a lot of dialectal words, which you might have trouble understanding. That’s why it’s recommended that you keep on listening to radio programmes, watch German series or movies.

When it comes to preparing the medical terms, you get a lot of variety of books for preparing for the Fachsprachprüfung. However, do not download any PDF documents, books, dictionaries, because the copyright law is very strict in Germany – You don’t want to get involved with any illegal activities because you need a police clearance certificate in order to get your Approbation. Whatever material you need to get, you can get it in the form of E-books. or you can just order them, get it couriered here in India. Books are expensive, but they are worth if you want to clear the exam in one go, and like I said patients are not going to narrate you the case like you are expecting.

PR: So you had a Berufserlaubnis and medical German language skill. How easily were you able to get a job after that?

SK: That’s a really difficult question to answer. We all know that there’s a huge shortage of doctors and healthcare professionals in Germany. But I wanted to complete my process in Berlin itself, and with Berlin being the capital, it was a bit difficult. Not a bit actually, in fact it was really, really difficult to get a job, because of a simple reason: Berlin is a very attractive city. There are a lot of young German doctors working in Berlin, or willing to work in Berlin, who already have their Approbation. So, preference is given to them. Second in line are doctors who received their qualifications in the European Union; they get direct recognition in Germany. Then only comes the rest, those who pursued their education outside the European Union. So with only a Berufserlaubnis it was a challenge to get a job in Berlin.

PR: Can you give us a little bit of detail about this experience?

SK: I applied almost everywhere. Every clinic, every hospital, every available vacancy, and naturally got rejections as well. But eventually I got two interview calls. The interviews were conducted in a really friendly manner, not like here. In India it’s a bit strict, but in Berlin it was very easy. You just have to present yourself like you are, your natural way. Don’t try to act, don’t try to add things which you don’t know. Just be yourself. Be confident. Be clear.

PR: And you got the job! What has it been like, working with the Berufserlaubnis?

SK: It’s wonderful! You don’t have to worry about anything. You get proper training before you begin. Once you get hired, you are introduced to the whole team, to the administration, your colleagues who you’re working with, each and everything. And you get enough time to prepare yourself. Also, you can post your queries. You can ask each and everything, because it’s important to know what not to do, rather than what to do. So, don’t feel shy. Just go on asking if you’re not sure about something.

PR: Looking back at your experience, what advice would you give people who are aspiring to go to Germany for Approbation?

SK: Firstly, make sure that you’re clear about what you want to do in Germany – higher education, work, research – and plan accordingly. Do some research. Do not contact an agent. There are all sorts of agencies, which will try to contact you with lucrative offers, promising you wonderful jobs and all the guidance. But you don’t need all of that, you can do all the things on your own. Of course, you can get the required guidance from the ProRecognition team. In my case, it was very helpful. And learning about your unique case will be very helpful for the ProRecognition team as well. Secondly, try to communicate in German itself. Even with the ProRecognition team. That will help you improve your skills. It will help you ease your anxiety in posing questions in Germany to the authorities, or in whatever professional groups you are on Facebook or WhatsApp. And even if you are hesitant about your language skills, the only option is to practice, practice, practice! Go through YouTube channels, try to tune into German radio online, give your best in grasping the language here itself because once you land in Germany, all that you’re going to hear is again going to be foreign for you, so that’s very important. Those are the two important things you have to keep in mind.

Thanks for sharing your experience and advise with us. We wish you all the best for your career in Germany!

(The interview was held in October 2019)