Earlier this year, Rita Marinho joined the BGB team. As a dentist with 11 years of experience (5 in Portugal and 6 in the Netherlands), she is able to help dentists who join our project adjust to life and work in the Netherlands. Now that she has been working with us for a few months, we sat down and talked about her experiences. We discussed her reasons to move to the Netherlands, her impressions of Dutch dentistry, and her advice for dentists who are also considering to work here.

What made you decide to leave Portugal?

In Portugal, I had worked in different clinics. There, I wasn’t able to do a lot of work, and the treatments I did weren’t very diverse. This only got worse when the crisis hit. When I didn’t have enough money to invest in my future, or enough work to improve my skills, I decided to go abroad in 2013.

Why did you choose to come to the Netherlands? Were there any other countries you considered?

My first option was to go to the UK, as I already had some colleagues who worked there. Before moving there, I first wanted to see with my own eyes what it was like to work there, so I arranged with a colleague to spend a day at his clinic. In the end, I didn’t like it, as I thought the way of working there was a bit old-fashioned.

So I thought to myself “where can I build a good future?”, and I became interested in the Netherlands and Denmark. Information about those countries was easy to find, and it was still not as far from Portugal as the more northern countries. Both seemed like good options, but I made the practical decision to choose the Netherlands, simply because I had a direct flight there.

You came to the Netherlands by yourself. How did you prepare?

I didn’t want to arrive in a new country having to start from scratch, so I prepared myself by following Dutch classes in my hometown until I reached A2 level. It was very difficult, but I was fortunate enough to have a teacher who helped me adjust the program a bit to also learn about dentistry-specific Dutch.

How were you able to find work in the Netherlands?

I found a clinic that was prepared to employ me if I also took Dutch classes. I was happy to do that, but I had to pay for the courses myself, and the first few courses weren’t the best. So it was a big investment for me, and I still didn’t get the most out of it. Not to mention how difficult it was to get home from a long work day and still having to do a lot of homework. I worked in Groningen, Amsterdam and Utrecht, and it took me years before I felt confident speaking Dutch at my work. If I could have done all the learning first and then found work, it would’ve made my life a lot easier!

Since a few months, you work with BGB. What are your tasks and activities with the company?

As a foreign dentist, I have been in the same position as all of the dentists that we work with. I can tell them about my experience, including the bad things, and give them advice. For example, I can tell them how Dutch clinics work, and in which ways their methods differ from dental clinics in other countries. I can also help them with their work, so discussing cases or helping them develop a certain technique that they do not yet know, or even finding information about a course. In the end, I am a buddy to the dentists; a colleague who they can count on.

In your own experience, how does Dutch dentistry compare to that of Portugal? Are there many differences?

In terms of the knowledge and experience I gained in Portugal, I think I had a good basis, not worse than my Dutch colleagues.

One of the things that work really well here in the Netherlands is the set of protocols: everyone works according to the same ‘recipe’. There’s little margin for people to do things very wrong. The costs are also the same across the country, which means that the difference is not made by the cost of a treatment, but how good you are as a dentist and how well you carry out a treatment.

What about the patients? Are they different in the Netherlands?

Back in Portugal, there is a bit more hierarchy between the patient and the dentist: they trust that the dentist does what is best. Here in the Netherlands, people generally put more things into question. “But why? I read on Google that…” So they tend to be more informed, which is good, but sometimes it can also seem like they think they know as much as the dentist. This means that, as a dentist, you need to prepare yourself to maybe give a little more explanation regarding your treatments, if required.

As a dentist in the Netherlands, you will also deal with a wider range of patients, from young to old, so the variety of treatments you can do is bigger. It also means that children are generally easier to work with, as they are used to the idea of going to the dentist.

You have been working here for a few months now. In that time, have you heard anything from dentists about things like this? Something that really surprised them about the Netherlands?

What I often hear from them is that Dutch patients, and people in general, are a lot more hesitant about medication. This is a big difference with Portugal, where antibiotics are often prescribed too easily. Here it can be the other extreme.

What is it like in the Netherlands in terms of career opportunities? Developing yourself professionally?

In Portugal, I was stuck. Investing in courses and continued education was also difficult, as the salaries there are generally too low for it. And even had I been able to afford them, I would have had too little patients to work with and develop myself as a dentist.

Here in the Netherlands, I always had a full agenda. If you want to get better at something, you will, because you have the chance to do it. The opportunities are there and you will earn enough money to invest in them.

Speaking of money, how did you experience that aspect of living here? People sometimes think it is very expensive to live in the Netherlands.

For me, it was always about fair working conditions and professional growth rather than the money itself. Still, things may be a bit more expensive here, but you earn so much more working here as a dentist that it does not matter. I have always had enough money to visit my parents three times per year, travel, go to the gym, go out with friends… Since living here, I have never had to count my money at the end of the month. Not even once. And that is considering I had a low starting salary when I first came here.

Why was the salary lower than normal?

It was because of the language. When arrived here, I already had five years of working experience, but still I earned less than my recently graduated Dutch colleagues. Even that salary was considerably higher than what I was earning back in Portugal, and I did not know any better than to take their offer. The clinic felt like they could offer me that salary because I did not yet speak the language.

As you said, you came here all by yourself. A lot of things have changed since then, such as the introduction of a mandatory language exam for newly arriving dentists. What do you think BGB does to make this process easier?

There are several answers to this. First, the fact that BGB takes care of all the paperwork for you and knows how it should be done takes a lot of weight off your shoulders. The same goes for the time you spend looking for things and trying to figure them out by yourself. How to go to the bank, which insurance you should choose, how to get a social security number, whether the contract that you are offered is good, what a good salary is, how to find a good clinic. Basically, how to become self-sufficient. There are so many things that BGB can help with.

Another important thing is that when you arrive in the Netherlands, you already have a network of people. Not only the people of BGB, but also your colleagues that you did the language course with, meaning that you never feel alone. Speaking from experience, I know that it takes a lot of time, energy and strength if you have no one else to take care of some of these things.

If there is a dentist right now who is studying somewhere in Europe, but already knows they want to work in the Netherlands, what would you recommend them to do?

You have to try to see and do as much as you can even while you are studying. You can already assist older colleagues outside the university. I used to work as an assistant for my own dentist to see how she worked; to learn the tricks. Go see as many colleagues as you can, learn how they work, and try to gain some practical experience early on. And always keep in mind that you are doing all of this for yourself: it is an investment in your own future.

Finally, what is your ambition with BGB? What would you like to add to the experience of the dentists we work with?

My ultimate goal is to hear from people a few years down the line that my help made a difference. Whether it was a small tip, or the fact that they could call me when they needed advice on something, I hope that I can help them feel reassured in the work that they do here.