By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News
Dr Radha fled persecution in Iraq
Seven years after seeking asylum in the UK, Dr Sarkhell Radha has finally started working as an orthopaedic specialist trainee.
But Dr Radha, an Iraqi Kurd, said he has had to overcome discrimination, as well as physical and verbal abuse, along the way.
When Dr Radha left southern Kurdistan he was fleeing persecution and torture.
He left behind a family, a good job and his home.
Life had become too difficult for him in his homeland - as soon as the Iraqi authorities freed him from a prison sentence imposed for opposition to the regime, he planned to escape over fears for his life.
Although he spoke very good English Dr Radha, aged 31, had never been to the UK but he had heard good things about it.
"I thought I would be safe there," he said.
He applied for asylum as soon as he landed in the UK and spent the next seven days at a detention centre.
"It was very disappointing, after the persecution and imprisonment in Iraq, to then be treated like that.
"I think my medical qualifications were held against me, unfortunately. I think they thought I had come to make money, or that was the impression I got.
"I said to them, though, that I had everything in my country. I had a decent job in Kurdistan. When you first come to the UK, they automatically think that you are an economic migrant," he said.
Dr Radha's application for asylum was refused, although this was later overturned, and he was sent to Stockton-on-Tees while officials reconsidered.
He lived there for three years on £37 a week and initially faced abuse.
"There were no black minority ethnic groups there and I had daily abuse, it was physical and verbal, everything, we were too scared to go out during [the] night.
"Some locals used to stone our house every night.
"I shared with another asylum seeker who had an English girlfriend and they had a little girl. Once some people threw fireworks inside the window of the house and it landed on the coat of the baby. If she had been there she could have died."
At first Dr Radha was too traumatised to study so he helped set up the town's first Kurdish community organisation, designed to build confidence among local asylum seekers and refugees.
"When I first got there I was not ready to study. I had just left my family, but then as I thought about it I wanted to. It was very tough.
"It was difficult to do my exams. There was nothing in Stockton for me.
"There was nobody to help me and signpost me. But when I got advice, I did all exams in less than a year."
Because Iraqi doctors study medicine in English, Dr Radha did not find the language a problem and passed the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam - the first step towards registration and employment in the UK.
He then took the PLAB (Professional and Linguistics Assessment Board) clinical exams that most overseas doctors need to successfully complete to gain General Medical Council registration.
He still needed to get clinical experience, and he said: "We needed to have a referee for clinical experience, but we did not know anybody".
Dr Radha told the BMA News Review that he had gone to every hospital within the North East to seek clinical attachments.
He gained a post in orthopaedics at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead. While working there Dr Radha visited other wards to gain further experience and, as a result of that, secured a four-month clinical fellowship post in respiratory medicine.
He then had a year as a senior house officer in orthopaedics before taking up a specialist orthopaedic post at James Cook University Hospital, Middleborough. He is currently studying for a Masters at Teesside University in Trauma and Orthopaedics.
But for success stories like Dr Radha, experts warn there are many more failures.
'Mountain to climb'
Debra Farbey, who runs an English course for healthcare professionals at Barnet College, London, says refugee doctors like Dr Radha have a mountain to climb and few succeed.
"The students that we have seen over the past four or five years who are now working as doctors are a very small percentage."
BMA refugee liaison group chair Dr Edwin Borman acknowledged the struggle but said it was good to celebrate the doctors who do make the grade.
"It's a wonderful achievement when a refugee doctor has been able to re-establish their medical career in the UK. This gives them the opportunity to contribute to the country that has given them sanctuary and to regain their identity as a doctor.
"This long and very difficult process can only be achieved by many organisations working together and considerable hard work by the doctors."