Lama Al Khouja actually only intended to complete her master's degree in Germany. But the war in Syria changed everything. Having successfully obtained recognition, she now works at a pharmacy in Thuringia.
Lama Al Khouja was already highly qualified when she came to Germany in 2015 on a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) scholarship.
Today she works as a dispensing chemist at a pharmacy in Hermsdorf in Thuringia and very much appreciates the security that professional recognition has brought her. She is just as grateful to her colleagues, who have made it easy for her to integrate. “I am happy in my work and life here because I received support from the outset. Some of my colleagues have now become friends.”
Lama originally thought that her stay in Germany would pan out very differently. Having completed a master's degree in clinical biochemistry and gathered several years of professional experience as a dispensing chemist, her intention was to study for a second master's at the University of Jena. Although she passed her course with flying colours, the war meant that a return to Syria was no longer possible. It was now clear that a plan B was needed. “I couldn’t return to my home country, so I decided to make a life for myself in Germany. Jobs are available for people who are prepared to work.”
However, Lama was unable to work as a dispensing chemist without an authorisation to practise. What was she to do? Fortunately, a friend and fellow dispensing chemist advised her to get in touch with one of the advisory centres run by the “Integration through Qualification” (IQ) Programme. With the help of an advisor, Lama submitted an application for a licence to practise as a dispensing chemist to the Thuringia State Administrative Office in February 2017. In order to obtain the licence to practise, she was required to complete a specialist language and knowledge test. Lama prepared by taking part in an APO Online course, which offers virtual refresher training to dispensing chemists who have migrated to Germany. The training comprises language and technical teaching units. These are predominantly delivered online together with a conference system. This enabled her to pursue her refresher training whilst at the same time working under supervision as a dispensing chemist. “I found the arrangements very helpful. If I had any questions, I could always get in touch with one of the contact partners for the course.” She passed the examinations organised by the Thuringia Chamber of Pharmacists at the first attempt and was awarded her licence to practise only two months later. She was now permitted to work in Germany as a dispensing chemist.
Looking back, Lama Al Khouja sees the large volume of learning she needed to undertake as having been the main challenge. She had already attended German courses in Syria and had achieved a level B1 qualification. Lama took her learning into her own hands and went on to pass the level C1 test at the Goethe Institute in Erlangen. However, as well as becoming proficient in the German language, she also had to acquire knowledge of German laws, regulations and specialist terminology. Even though the profession is referred to by the same name in both Syria and Germany, Lama states that it is not easy to make comparisons. “In Syria, for example, chemists may decide to dispense medicines made by a different manufacturer. In Germany, this sometimes needs to be checked with the doctor. The rules and laws are not the same.”
Lama now has a fixed contract of employment at the pharmacy where she spent six months as a dispensing chemist working under supervision. This is a good stepping stone for her future career in Germany. “I have now established a foundation here. I am able to work and earn money and can continue to build my life.” Lama now has her eyes set firmly on a PhD.
Photograph: © Portal “Recognition in Deutschland”/BIBB: Robert Funke
The interview with Lama Al Khouja was conducted in May 2018. She was advised and supported in the recognition procedure by die Informations- und Beratungsstelle Anerkennung Ostthüringen des Bildungswerks der Thüringer Wirtschaft (BWTW) e. V. [the East Thuringia Recognition Information and Counselling Centre of the Education and Training Institute of Thuringia Trade and Industry], part of the IQ Netzwerkes Thüringen, das IQ Teilprojekt APO-Online im Rahmen der Virtuellen Anpassungsqualifizierung, [The IQ sub-project APO Online for Virtual Refresher Training] and further assistance was offered by the Thuringia Chamber of Pharmacists.
My procedure in brief
- Lama Al Khouja comes to Germany in 2015 on a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) scholarship. She arrives from Syria with a master’s in clinical biochemistry as well as several years of professional experience as a pharmacist.
- In Germany she completes a second master’s. She continues to learn German and achieves level C1.
- Lama Al Khouja finds out about approbation (licence to practise medicine in Germany) from the IQ counselling service. She participates in virtual training for pharmacists to prepare for the knowledge test.
- Alongside the training Lama Al Khouja is already working as a pharmacist under supervision.
- Lama Al Khouja passes the test, receives approbation and is given a permanent position as a pharmacist. Her next goal is to gain a doctorate.