But perhaps I should start at the beginning… (at least for anyone reading who wants to know ‘how to work as a speech therapist in France’, others skip to section 4)
1. Apply for the ‘Formulaire d’autorisation d’exercer la profession d’orthophoniste’
If you have a speech therapy degree obtained abroad and you want to work in France, the first thing to do is to write off for the form to fill in. You may be surprised to learn that this is not managed at a national level, but is the responsibility of the DRJSCS, or the delightfully named Department for Youth, Sports and Social Cohesion, of each region in France. These have changed as of 2016, from 27 to only 18, adding further confusion to the existing chaos and inconsistency between different regional committees. They haven’t worked out the new names yet, so some have got very long-winded ones like Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charentes. Pity the poor secretaries who have to answer the phone lines. However, it’s supposed to cut down on bureaucracy overall, so we should be grateful for small mercies.
So in fact, the first thing you actually have to do is to decide which region in France to apply to. Technically this is supposed to be where you’re going to practise after you receive the authorisation, but once you have the piece of paper it’s valid for the whole of France, so no-one cares much about that. Those in the know pick the regions with the least severe reputations (rumour has it that Nord Pas de Calais, PACA and Franche Comté are best avoided) and/or ones with upcoming commission sessions in order to have the dossier looked at as soon as possible.
Whichever you choose, the website for the DRJSCS will tell you how to get hold of the form, but be aware that it’s not simply a case of firing off a quick e-mail… oh no! In my case I needed to send a copy of my passport and my speech therapy qualification translated into French by a traducteur assermenté or sworn translator before they would even send me the form. Welcome to the first of the 12 travaux d’Astérix for speech therapists.
This is where the work starts in earnest. Apart from the form itself, the compulsory documents I had to provide were the following: 1) passport photocopy, 2) degree certificate, 3) paperwork relating to work experience and CPD, 4) CRB or police statement, 5) a document detailing ‘year by year, the content and number of hours of modules completed, as well as the content and number of hours of each clinical placement’. All of this, needless to say, has to be presented in French translated by a certified translator.
Numbers 1), 2) and 4) were straightforward. When it came to 3), I initially planned to send in all my job contracts and CPD certificates, but discarded that idea on the grounds of cost and the fact that they were unlikely to care very much about BVA, SIGAN training days etc. So instead I had a rather brilliant idea of getting my ex-employers to sign letters stating what my job title had been and a list of my duties in post. To cut down translation costs, I wrote them in French, translated back into English (to avoid unnecessarily flowery language), and got an official translator to proofread my translations.
5) Luckily, I had access to a Word document of the City University programme, and was able to edit it in order to cut out the waffle (translators charge per word so it all counts!) and get it down to the bare essentials of modules and number of hours. For my placements, I discovered that City keep records for 5 years or so, so mine had been consigned to the shredder…. which was a good excuse to be a little creative with the remaining records I had. I created a table listing the 13 clinical areas on the form, and giving examples of patients I had worked with, with minimal details (since I couldn’t remember the vast majority…)
3. Send in your dossier in time for the next commission
Facebook is your friend here as the information on commission dates seems to be solely available by word of mouth. Rather than attempting to speak to someone on the phone, the Facebook group Equivalence ortho-logo (primarily for Belgian SLTs known as logopèdes) has 2600 members constantly asking for updates in every region, so you’re likely to find out there first.
The commissions tend to take place at about the same time every year, but you can’t bank on this, since by rights Ile de France was due one in November, when I sent my form in… only to find that it had been put back until February!
4. Await the results!
So, what did my letter say?
First of all, apparently my dossier didn’t demonstrate a level of spoken proficiency in French: damn! Actually, surprisingly enough, amongst the documents required in my dossier there had been no mention of language proficiency. This is probably because hardly any non-native French speakers ever apply for recognition of a speech therapy qualification – the vast majority have qualified in Belgium. Nevertheless, I added in a copy of my Institute of Linguists diploma in translation, hoping that that would satisfy them… the letter was at pains to point out that this
“only demonstrates proficiency in the written language (actually, it was translation into English, so it doesn’t prove anything of the kind but ssh! Don’t tell)… As practice of the speech therapy profession requires a level of spoken and written language equivalent to ‘autonomy/mastery’, the regional committee of speech therapists held on 8 February 2016 has decided to assess proficiency of spoken and written language before taking a decision on whether to authorise practice of the speech therapy profession in France.”
So, I have to “prove (my level of spoken language) by any document which (I) can supply” or I “will be invited to attend an interview with a panel for the assessment of spoken and written language“. I’m not very keen on the idea of this panel since given that it took 3 months for my dossier to be examined, I don’t have high hopes for an interview to take place any time soon.
More importantly, the second element of the letter stated that there were ‘substantial differences’ between the content of my professional training and that required by the French state, and I need to undertake further clinical placements in order to compensate. This came as no surprise, however. British qualifications are decidedly ‘inferior’ when it comes to the level of student placement hours required over the course of our training. Even being very generous in my calculations, I could only get up to 600 hours, compared to about the 2000 completed on French courses. (It didn’t help that I did an accelerated 2 year postgrad course – I don’t know how those who did UK undergrad courses would fare…) Finally, we got to the real nitty-gritty – the number of extra clinical hours required, which were:
Yes, that’s 200 hours of clinical placements to be undertaken before I can apply to the ‘exit commission’ to be given the right to practise in France. This may seem a lot (it actually amounts to 8 weeks, as you can’t do more than 25h in a week) but in the grand scheme of things, it is a pretty good result! On the Facebook group, I have come across anything from 125h to 1000+ (yes, not kidding!) and the majority are round about the 400-500h mark. I have to write off to SLTs to ask them to take me on for a placement, and laryngectomy and hearing impairment are notoriously difficult to find (with waiting lists of 7 months + for laryngectomy), but hey, it could have been a lot worse!
So, before I start writing my placement request letters, I might just treat myself to a nice glass of wine…