Doctors with new borders

Moving from South America, learning Swedish and getting your medical degree approved in Sweden represent a major challenge. Mariana Reza Felix and Marcelo Petri recently started a new training programme for doctors with a foreign license to practise medicine, and must adapt their internationally-acquired skills to the Swedish healthcare system. But they will also need to learn to interpret unwritten social codes and understand the thick Skåne accent at the motor vehicle inspection.

Marcelo Petri and Mariana Reza Felix.

Mariana Reza Felix grew up in Venezuela in an environment where someone was always ill and, at a young age, she was fascinated by how sick people, after spending some time at the hospital, were able to fully recover. At eight years old, she – the first one in her family – decided to become a doctor.

“But for a doctor in Venezuela, the financial situation is very difficult. For example, during my two-year medical internship, I had two full-time jobs and a weekend job, and was still not able to afford my own home.”

It was when Mariana Reza Felix was working as a doctor in Spain that she met her current Swedish partner. When the couple decided to move to Sweden, her goal was to get her medical license approved.

“While my documents were being reviewed by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, I was offered a PhD position at Lund University. It was fantastic, and it gave me the opportunity to learn Swedish faster, which is why I also chose to write my doctoral thesis in Swedish.

Marcelo Petri took longer to decide on a career path, but after a couple of semesters on the medical degree programme, he knew he had made the right choice:

“While I was doing my internship in the delivery room and for the first time held an infant in my arms, I knew I was in the right place.”

In both Venezuelan and in Mexican healthcare, there is a clear and rigid hierarchical structure that often complicates the work. The countries also differ from Sweden in terms of the relationship between doctors and patients, which is characterised by the patients being less involved in their own treatment.

“We need to learn the differences between healthcare in our home countries and here. It has to do with things like prescribing antibiotics, or whether or not to conduct a follow-up X-ray exam. We don’t lack knowledge – ours is simply different and we have to the adapt to Swedish procedure”, says Marcelo Petri.

For Marcelo Petri, the opportunity to conduct research is what made him move to Sweden. After obtaining his PhD, he got a job as an assistant nurse and began to consider staying in Sweden and getting his medical license approved. When Marcelo Petri was admitted to the bridging programme in Lund, he and his entire family moved down to Skåne from Stockholm.

“Things are going well, apart from the Skåne accent, which is my greatest challenge at the moment. I just came from the annual motor vehicle inspection and I didn’t understand a word, but luckily they also gave me the information in writing.”

Their fellow students on the programme are from all parts of the world with different backgrounds, several of whom already completed their specialist training in their home countries. So far, both Marcelo Petri and Mariana Reza Felix are satisfied with the programme and think it provides a good introduction to Swedish healthcare. For Mariana Reza Felix, it has been valuable to see how assistant nurses and nurses work, and she has gained an understanding of what these professional groups consider a good doctor. However, not being able to read existing unwritten social codes has occasionally landed her in some embarrassing situations.

“One rule that I know now, for example, is that you do nothug at work. In my culture, we are very physical and show friendship in a completely different way”, she concludes.

Text: Åsa Hansdotter

Photo:  Kennet Ruona

MORE ABOUT Mariana Reza Felix

Age: 34
Family: Partner in Malmö
From: Venezuela
Medical license from Venezuela and Spain
Moved to Sweden: 2011
What she likes about Sweden: That there is peace
What she misses most about Venezuela: Besides family, the beach and the sea

MORE ABOUT Marcelo Petri

Age: 38
Family: Wife and child in Malmö
From: Brazil
Medical doctor degree from Mexico
Moved to Sweden: 2011
What he likes about Sweden: Transportation opportunities – that it’s so easy to get to different places
What he misses most about Mexico: Corn tortillas

FACTS. The programme, launched in January 2018, is intended for physicians with a foreign license to practice medicine who need to supplement their training in order to apply for a Swedish medical license. On completion of their training and a review by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, the students can apply for a medical internship (AT) in Sweden.