How to Become a Doctor in Portugal: Main Steps and Challenges

27 de March, 2024

How to Become a Doctor in Portugal: Main Steps and Challenges

Reading: 9 min

The desire to practice medicine in Portuguese lands has been attracting more and more foreigners doctors in search of new opportunities and challenges. Portugal, with its enviable quality of life, pleasant climate, and cultural and linguistic similarity, offers a promising scenario for healthcare professionals seeking an enriching experience abroad. In this article, we will explain step by step the path to becoming a doctor in Portugal, from diploma and specialty recognition to the challenges faced and rewards achieved by those who tread this path.

Read also: Complete Guide to Health in Portugal

Medicine School in Portugal

The medical school in Portugal has the same duration, 6 years, and a curriculum structure similar to the current bachelor’s degrees in medicine in other countries, such as Brazil. However, unlike Brazil, students in Portugal already graduate with a master’s degree in medicine.

The integration of the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Portugal is a reflection of the “Bologna Treaty,” whose objective was to create university courses with similar curricular structures throughout the European Union, not only to be equated among the various Member States but also to become competitive internationally.

See how to get a student visa for Portugal here.

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Equivalence to the Master’s Degree in Medicine

If you haven’t studied medicine in Portugal, you will need to go through the process of equivalency for your Bachelor’s degree to have your title recognized in the country. In fact, at the end of the process, your foreign title will be recognized as equivalent to a master’s degree in medicine in Portugal (even if you don’t have a master’s degree in your country of origin).

How to Revalidate a Medical Diploma in Portugal

The process consists of 4 successive and eliminatory stages:

  1. Documentary Stage: submission of the necessary documents during the application;
  2. Theoretical Exam: now a single exam conducted on the same date in all Portuguese Medical Schools participating in the commission;
  3. Practical Exam: conducted if the candidate passes the previous stage;
  4. Public Presentation: presentation of a scientific work before a panel of professors (for those with a master’s degree, it’s the defense of their respective dissertation).

Important: candidates from non-Portuguese-speaking countries are usually invited to take a written test to demonstrate their adequate proficiency in the Portuguese language.

When are the exams held?

At Atlantic Bridge, we suggest that the documentary phase be completed by June so that they can be submitted to DGES by August 1st. As for the theoretical exams, currently, the process occurs annually, with applications closing in November and the theoretical exam taking place in January of the following year. The time needed to complete all stages of the diploma equivalence process varies depending on the exam schedule, taking an average of 12 months to complete the entire process.

How much does it cost to revalidate a medical diploma?

The costs will depend on the institution chosen to carry out this validation. The average price is around €550 for registration and exams.

Next Steps and Professional Profile

The process of recognizing a foreign medical diploma in Portugal is a crucial step for doctors who wish to practice in this country. However, the procedures to follow vary according to each individual’s professional profile:

  • Recent graduates: For doctors recently graduated outside Portugal without professional experience, the first step is to apply for registration with the Portuguese Medical Association, without autonomy to practice the profession. Next, it is necessary to complete a medical residency program in Portugal. Even for those who wish to work only as general practitioners, it is mandatory to complete at least one year of supervised medical practice (the general training year) to be able to work autonomously.
    Therefore, students who finish the academic year between June and September can only start practicing medicine in January of the following year after taking the medical specialty entrance exam, which usually takes place in mid-November of the year of graduation.
    Thus, if you intend to come to Portugal and have less than 3 years of medical practice in your country, you will be required to undergo the same process as Portuguese recent graduates. In other words, you will have to take the medical specialty entrance exam and start as a trainee (resident) in the General Training year, so that at the end of this year, having been approved in all stages, you can request autonomy from the Portuguese Medical Association.
  • General practitioners: Doctors who are general practitioners in Brazil, with more than 3 years of professional experience in the last 5 years, can apply for registration with the Portuguese Medical Association with autonomy to practice medicine in the country. If they wish, they also have the option to complete a medical residency program in Portugal, subject to passing a specific entrance exam.
  • Specialists: Doctors who already are specialists, with more than 3 years of professional experience in the last 5 years, can apply for registration with the Portuguese Medical Association with autonomy. Next, they must request recognition of their specialty in Portugal. While waiting for approval, they have the possibility of working as general practitioners, provided they are recognized by the Medical Association. Alternatively, they can also choose to complete a medical residency program in Portugal if they wish to pursue another specialty or enhance their knowledge in their current field.

Registration with the Portuguese Medical Association

After completing the process of diploma equivalence in Portugal, the professional becomes eligible to register with the Portuguese Medical Association and practice medicine in the country (with or without autonomy, as explained earlier).

This is a bureaucratic procedure that may take some time (3 to 6 months). It involves a thorough evaluation of the documentation by the Medical Association committee. It is common for additional requests related to professional autonomy to occur during this evaluation.

See also how the D7 visa works for living on retirement or income in Portugal.

Ser médico em Portugal: Imagem do Hospital Santo Antônio, Porto.
Hospital Santo Antônio, Porto.

Recognition of Medical Specialty

Once the previous stage is completed, it’s time to formulate a request for recognition of your medical specialty in Portugal. This process involves submitting an application to the Portuguese Medical Association, after your registration with this body, which will be thoroughly analyzed by the respective Specialty College.

During this procedure, it is essential to present a detailed Curriculum Vitae, which meticulously describes all the academic and professional experience of the applicant. The goal is to demonstrate the equivalence between the workload and the training program of the medical specialty obtained abroad and the standards applicable in Portugal.

After submitting the request and relevant documents, a jury will be constituted by the Specialty College of the Portuguese Medical Association. This jury will conduct a meticulous and individualized analysis, and may make one of the following decisions:

  • Reject the request, or
  • Fully approve it, or
  • Approve it conditionally, requiring additional experience through additional training, exams, or internships.

It is important to emphasize that this stage involves a significant margin of subjectivity in the evaluation, both regarding the level of requirement established by each Specialty College and the additional training that may be required. The process is bureaucratic and can take a long time! The average timeframe for reviewing applications can vary considerably, ranging from 6 months to 2 years. In some cases, there may even be no recognition of the specialty. Unfortunately, the argument is often based on curriculum structure and duration of training, which in most specialties is higher here.

Each specialty has its specific criteria; many of them have structured programs with a minimum number of procedures to be completed for the specialty’s conclusion and require a final completion exam that is often also required for doctors applying for equivalence of the specialty.

But don’t despair! There are also many successful cases in the process of recognizing different specialties for foreign doctors.

How to Get Prepared for Evaluations

We recommend our clients to seek support from specialized schools in preparing foreign doctors for the National Access Exam for Medical Specialty (PNA). These institutions usually offer video lessons, live classes, clinical cases, eBooks, quizzes, simulation exams: everything that can help you prepare for studying. Additionally, they provide all the necessary support for the preparation of the Curriculum Vitae, a kind of giant and detailed resume of the candidate’s entire academic and professional experience. Atlantic Bridge, along with its partners, is able to offer this service. Contact us and request a quote.

What is the Salary of Doctors in Portugal?

Doctors are among the highest-paid professionals in the country, especially those working for the private sector. The values ​​will always depend on the specialty and where the doctor will work.

In the National Health Service – NHS, it usually pays around €25 gross per hour in emergencies. Specialists, with a 35-hour workweek, can earn around €3,500 gross monthly. While doctors without a specialty usually earn not much more than €2,000 monthly.

In the private sector, an experienced cardiologist, for example, who works daily, is unlikely to earn less than €10,000 per month, as revealed by Dr. Bernardo Medeiros, a Brazilian who has been working in the Portuguese market for several years.

What are the challenges faced by foreign doctors in Portugal?

The challenges faced by doctors who wish to practice medicine in Portugal can vary significantly according to each individual’s personal experience. As observed by Dr. Mariana Ramalho, a brazilian who works at São João Hospital Center, some of these challenges include:

Language barrier: For Brazilians, the issue is not the language but rather adapting to the technical terms of the profession and communicating with colleagues, which can be challenging. Effective communication with the elderly and children may require extra effort but is generally successful with patience and adaptation. “The secret is: if you don’t know how to explain it ‘the Portuguese way,’ just speak slower, and everything will be understood,” suggests the doctor.

Understanding the healthcare system: It is essential to understand how the local healthcare system operates to provide adequate care to patients. This includes knowing the rules, understanding the position in the healthcare chain to avoid duplicating requests for Complementary Diagnostic Methods, and optimizing the use of available resources.

Prejudice: Foreign doctors may face initial distrust and the need to prove their competence and adaptability. Additionally, gender prejudice issues may also arise, requiring a firm and assertive professional stance, especially for female doctors.

Testimony from a Brazilian doctor in Portugal

Dr. Mariana Ramalho is a partner of Atlantic Bridge and a Brazilian doctor who has been working in Portugal since 2015. She tells us a little more about her story of perseverance in the country:

“I still remember, in mid-2011, the day I said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to live in Brazil anymore.’ It was pandemonium, a collective discomfort in the family and among friends! Yes, at the time Portugal was in crisis and Brazil seemed to be thriving. I, a young doctor, supposedly with a promising future ahead in Brazil.

But my desire to experience something new, in a fairer, safer place where my work would be valued not only for its monetary value but also for the dignity of the workplace and patient care was so strong that I devised my strategy.

It was a long process of planning and research to practice medicine on this side of the Atlantic (I started in 2011 but only came to Portugal in 2013!). There wasn’t as much information available, and in fact, I only knew one person who had gone through the process before me, whom I ironically met through a Portuguese friend who was living in Brazil at the time.

I called almost every medical school in Portugal, sent several emails, and the responses started coming, and I structured the best plan at the time. There was no support like there is today, whether through social media or through companies that deal with the matter with such efficiency and seriousness. Yes, that would have made my journey much easier. There would have been much more objectivity; I would have wasted less time and had much less stress, which would have been worth every penny invested! In summary, I would say these are the main challenges faced by those who want to be doctors in Portugal. However, in the end, I consider that overcoming each of these challenges was worth it, and today I remain here on this side of the Atlantic, with the certainty that my ‘craziness’ was my best decision!”

Dr. Mariana Ramalho

Simplify your journey to Portugal!

Practicing medicine in Portugal can be a challenging yet rewarding journey. Although the transition process is not as simple or quick, with access to the right and reliable information, along with adequate planning, your journey can be much smoother and calmer. Courage!

Atlantic Bridge offers comprehensive support to foreign doctors wishing to validate their diplomas, including partnerships with institutions specialized in preparing for equivalence exams. Additionally, we assist in all stages of the process, from obtaining residence visas to assisting in acquiring documents and complete relocation to Portugal. We are committed to making this transition as smooth and successful as possible, empowering doctors to achieve their professional and personal potential in Portuguese lands. If you would like to speak with a specialist, click here.



Atlantic Bridge

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