French physiotherapist battles with bureaucracy over New Zealand degree

She tells of her frustration at being unable to practise due to ‘nightmarish’ admin obstacles. ‘I am French, imagine if I was a foreigner,’ she said

A woman sitting at her physiotherapist practice table
Mrs Le Gourvenec-Gleize-Bourras in her converted physio office which as yet she has been unable to practise in

A French woman says she is facing an administrative nightmare to win the right to work as a physiotherapist in France despite qualifying and working in the role for two years in New Zealand.

France will not allow Catherine Le Gourvenec-Gleize-Bourras to practise because it does not recognise her non-European degree - from the University of Auckland - a situation she says is “abhorrent” in the face of the medical deserts and a scarcity of physiotherapists in France.

She considers her New Zealand degree, based on practical application rather than learning information by heart, to be “100 times better” than the Belgian or French equivalent. 

‘Intentionally irritating’ or ‘extremely ignorant’

Due to the situation, she completed a second physiotherapy degree in Belgium at the cost of around €10,000 or €12,000 - but is still unable to practise.

This is because she ‘only’ has 400 hours of internship hours with her Belgian diploma although she has completed 1,200 hours in New Zealand and 400 in Qatar. 

However, she says she is finally hopeful, two and a half years after arriving in France, of being officially recognised thanks to support from local residents, mayors and her préfecture. 

In her local area around Gorses (Lot), she said: “around 70 patients have medical prescriptions and need to see a physio but cannot.”

“It is nonsensical. I live in a medical desert, there are 3,000 people with no easy access to a physio, I have two separate diplomas and I am being told that I need to wait for four months to find out if I can be recognised.”

Read more: French ‘medical deserts’: Mayor’s plea over lack of rural GPs

“I am French, imagine if I was a foreigner,” she said. “If I had not bought a house here, I would have returned to New Zealand in a heartbeat.”

“It comes down to either the administration being intentionally irritating or extremely ignorant of the urgency of the situation.” 

Moving to France with a New Zealand degree

She originally left France with her husband, an offshore helicopter pilot, around 20 years ago. She first worked in a physiotherapy office in Qatar, before moving to New Zealand, where based on her background, she studied - and qualified - to be a physiotherapist. 

The family decided to relocate back to France after the Covid pandemic. During that time, Mrs Le Gourvenec-Gleize-Bourras had to spend 18 months with her two young daughters but without her husband. As an off-shore helicopter pilot, he was not a resident of New Zealand and therefore could not return due to border restrictions linked to Covid-19. 

To avoid this happening again, they decided to buy a home in rural France, moving to the north of Lot (Occitanie) where they bought two houses: one ready to move into and one that needed renovation, which they converted into an office for her physio practice. 

The nearest physiotherapist office is 16 kilometres away and has a waiting list for new clients.

When applying for her physiotherapist licence, she was told her degree was not recognised in France, despite it being recognised in the UK, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Switzerland to name a few countries, 

Not wanting to spend another two years studying, which would have been the case at a French university, she turned to the university of Liège in Belgium, which allowed her to complete her degree in just a year. Last February, she received her new diploma. 

‘Not restricted to physiotherapy’

She then applied to the Ordre des masseurs-kinésithérapeutes (the national order of physiotherapists) with her European diploma. Months later, she was told that her application was not successful due to the internship hours and she is still unable to practise.

“This is not just a problem for physiotherapy. It is the same with all medical degrees, if you did not study in France, it is almost game over,” she said. 

Read more: Seven questions about ‘medical deserts’ in France

“In our area, there is a Lithuanian and, I think, a Polish doctor who are also trying to have their degrees recognised but are unable to. This means that we do not have a doctor within 10 kilometres of our town, for 3,000 patients.” 

The centre Enic-Naric France, which is part of a European network of Enic-Naric centres, is the organisation that deals with the recognition of foreign diplomas in France and helping individuals getting their degree recognised. You can find out more information here