Working as a pharmacist abroad: the global community

After the sad news about Brexit, and more lately, about leaders being elected in the US who wish to close borders even more and to raise walls, I want to share with you, my experience of working as a foreigner in France.

The national context

As I mentioned in an earlier piece shared on Johnathan Laird’s blog, entitled „Working as a Pharmacist in post-communist Romania”, I have lived the majority of my adult life in an Eastern European country. Before 1989, although Romania was not in the Soviet Union (contrary to what many people believe), we were in the Eastern Bloc and in the Varsovia Pact, an obscure country from a geopolitical point of view. Now, almost 27 years after the fall of Communism, unfortunately, we remain obscure, in the eyes of the developed world and even in our own perspectives.

Nonetheless, Romania has provided great things to mankind over the ages. Just to enumerate a few: the discovery of insulin by Dr. Nicolae Paulescu, the invention of modern aeronautics and jet planes by Henri Coanda, the discovery of ribosomes by Nobel-prize winner George E. Palade, creating a new field of study called cybernetics by Stefan Odlobeja, and many others. This is to say that, even though Romania has never been (and probably never will be) a leading economic power, it still possesses the raw essence of greatness through its people. And people can tap this essence when they are in the right environment.

I finished my pharmacy studies in 2011 and started working straight away as a community pharmacist, a great experience that helped me learn a lot of things about working with patients, alongside colleagues, and being emphatic, assertive and understanding. But, since I am dynamic and curious by nature, I wanted to experience other sides of my profession. So, I went on to take the national residency exam and started working as a clinical pharmacy resident alongside doctors in our country’s hospitals. Another great experience of which I can tell you later, in another article.

It has been my life-long dream to teach so I decided to try this too. I started giving Physical-Chemistry Practical Works to pharmacy students. It was great. I was connecting with them, getting their attention and at the same time I was listening to them, observing them, I was curious as to how they see the world. I was ready for my next step.

2 years after starting my work as I pharmacist I decided to move abroad. Mainly because I had started another professional experience (my 4th so far) in medical research by enrolling in a Ph.D. program. Since, unfortunately, I did not have too many opportunities to work in a research lab in Romania, I started looking outside, towards the West. And, one day, after failing to get a grant I had applied for, I was feeling very demotivated about my research and career perspectives, so I decided to take a leap and searched online for research teams working in the same therapeutic area. After a few attempts, I found someone (a very important doctor from France that was leading teams and creating projects worth millions of euros) and I sent him an email. Just like that, out of the blue, out of nowhere, without knowing him. Actually, his family name caught my eye, it was Romanian. Nonetheless, all the conversations were in English, I did not want to fully use my “Romanian card”. Other than the fact that he was leading a Hepatology department in the biggest hospital in Paris, I had never met him and I did not know a lot about him. So, I went on a limb and I explained him my situation. I waited nervously. After just 2 days he answered. I was amazed. One of the leading hepatologists in Europe had answered an email to someone he never met and was ready to help him. I couldn’t believe my luck. Now, almost 3 years after these events, I know that, if someone needs my help, even if I do not know the person, I will try to get to know him and help him. Because I am working in a research lab since 3 years thanks to an email sent in the abyss of the internet. And this, my friends, is called providence.

The international context

Is it hard working abroad? Of course, it is. Language, culture, a way of thinking, society, weather, these are just a few factors that will surely differ from the „normal” conditions you are used to in your native land. If you add the fact that you need to bring yourself up to date with what is considered normal and accepted in your new country by your new colleagues and friends, being a foreigner and working as a foreigner takes up all you time and energy you give it. So what are the upsides? Well, if you are moving (like I did) from a less to a more developed country, then you have some upsides:

  1. Public transport: cannot reiterate enough how „lucky” the West is to have good, reliable, functioning public transport.
  2. Art and culture: depending on the country and city, of course, but I have the impression that art is considered not necessary a luxury but a necessity in western Europe.
  3. Medical services: if you have ever been hospitalised in Romania, you know what I’m talking about. Medical services in the West are just better, no doubt.
  4. Good manners and education: when I moved to France, I was so surprised to not see people being rude to each other. Don’t get me wrong, French people can be upset with each other, but they have such a polite way of solving even the most upsetting situations, it’s absolutely great to witness this.
  5. Last but not least (and this is specific maybe to France?), THE FOOD: if you want to retire, and live a life of just eating fine food and drinking fine drinks, move to France, no better way to „Bacchus-up” your life.

So, what should pharmacists (and people of any profession for that matter) be aware of when moving to another country to work?

Well, first you need to understand that not everyone thinks the same way you do. And, the further away you move for your new job, the more different you will find the culture and ideology there. So, be prepared and accept that people are just different, it will save you a lot of headaches.

Secondly, be prepared to take on some stereotyping at the beginning. Not because people don’t like where you come from, or yourself even, but because people are afraid of what they do not understand. And that fear will turn to generalisation and even anger if not treated correctly on your part. You can first prove that you are not a threat (physically and emotionally) and that you are good at your job. When people see a good, trained professional which is also well-mannered and civilised coming from a country where they thought there was no electricity, they will be amazed, they will respect you and they will integrate you into their professional and personal lives.

Lastly, always smile and be polite. The best business card that you should always have with you is a smile. People respond much better to a smile. People respond much better to politeness. Increase your chances of creating bonds to the people there by giving a little more than receiving, at least at the beginning, and then, as the relationships develop, things will balance themselves out.

A global community

Most importantly living abroad has taught me that, even though my nationality is Romanian, we are first and foremost humans living in a global community. I left Romania as a nationalist and I still am proud of my Moldavian roots, but I much happier to meet people and to connect with them no matter where they come from. This is the beauty of the world today. There will always be a fear of the unknown, of other people, nations, but a fear of the human spirit should not exist! Borders can maybe protect us from the harm of the exterior, but they also deprive us of the incredible experience of meeting someone completely different from you and learning things you never imagined you could learn. This is the beauty of living in the world today, as a pharmacist working abroad.

Be a part of the global community!


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