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Migrant nurses need more support: there is little research into the experience of migrant nurses in New Zealand. But one researcher has made a small start, looking at recruitment consultants' and employers' attitudes.

Migrant nurses in New Zealand experience discrimination and that discrimination is from a number of sources--employers, patients and migrant nursing colleagues. A number of groups, including recruitment agencies, employers, colleagues and the migrant nurses themselves need to take responsibility to ensure migrant nurses make a successful transition and integration into the New Zealand nursing workforce.

These are two of the significant findings of a small research study conducted by Victoria University student and first generation New Zealander, Shiranthi Fonseka, as part of her BA honours degree in sociology.

Fonseka was interested in cultural and ethnic identities and issues related to women, and New Zealand is experiencing a nursing shortage, so research into recruitment agencies' and employers' attitudes to female migrant nurses was an attractive subject. There was little New Zealand research into issues concerning migrant nurses here but Wellington migrant agency Multicultural Learning and Support Services had highlighted the fact that female migrant nurses had trouble finding employment. Her own history, as the daughter of professional parents who emigrated from Sri Lanka to Taranaki in 1973, also influenced her choice of research.

Nursing Council statistics reveal that in the 2005/2006 year, migrant nurses made up 51 percent of all new nurse registrations. These nurses came from approximately 40 countries, with the top six countries being the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Australia, Zimbabwe, India and South Africa.

Fonseka chose a serf-administered postal survey which was sent to 60 recruitment agencies through the country. Her research project received approval from the university's human ethics committee. She received only 12 responses which was disappointing. "My study cannot be said to be representative of my potential sample, let alone of health and nursing recruitment consultants in New Zealand. But the respondents who did reply provided a lot of information and I was encouraged by their interest."

Common themes and issues that emerged from the responses were English language ability as a significant barrier to employment, the importance of understanding New Zealand culture and customs, differences in training, qualifications, experience and health care systems, discrimination and what can be done to assist the integration of migrant nurses.

Three respondents recommended English classes would be useful in the orientation of migrant nurses and another suggested a nursing-focused English course. Only one respondent noted the potential benefit to New Zealand's health care system that migrant nurses bring, ie knowing another language. Fonseka said this lack of recognition of the value of migrant nurses' linguistic skills was disappointing but reflected other research on the failure of New Zealand employers to call on the cultural resources of migrants.

Problems arising from cultural differences, and a tack of understanding of New Zealand's culture and customs came out strongly in the study, with a number of respondents stressing the importance of a good knowledge of New Zealand's ways and traditions. But Fonseka said it was hard to determine what apsects of New Zealand culture the respondents were referring to.

Four respondents noted the benefits migrant nurses brought to New Zealand's health system, including multi-cultural awareness, a fresh perspective to challenge norms and their experience of different health systems.

Reluctance to recruit

There was a reluctance to recruit from certain countries, notably the Philippines and India, and this discrimination was a concern, Fonseka said. Such reluctance was often based on the fact training standards and qualifications were not perceived as comparable to New Zealand's. Fonseka said responses also highlighted attitudes towards migrant nurses based on the race or country of origin of the nurses. Prejudice from New Zealand patients was cited as a concern of employers in the employment of migrant nurses. Fonseka said the discrimination demonstrated by patients signified discrimination towards particular ethnicities, which may be widespread in New Zealand society.

One respondent commented that "Filipinas are considered lazy. Chinese and Black South Africans are considered hard working", white another stated that many Islamic female nurses were reluctant to question male doctors.

Conflict between migrant nurses of different ethnicities was seen as problematic by one respondent. There was also a belief among some respondents that some district health boards (DHB) were more "racially selective" in their choice of migrant nurses.

Asked for examples of when an employer may employ a migrant nurse rather than a New Zealand nurse, one respondent said when the employer was looking for cheaper labour. A respondent also commented that some migrant nurses were desperate for any job. These responses suggested that some migrant nurses may be vulnerable to exploitation, Fonseka said.

The inadequacy of the initiation and orientation for migrant nurses concerned a number of respondents, with one stating support in the transition to New Zealand nursing practice would be useful. Ongoing training, assessment and support systems were also suggested as ways of improving the performance of migrant nurses in the workforce. One respondent said initial funding from government was needed to implement such training programmes.

There was a suggestion that employers, including DHBs, should be given information and examples of successful placements to challenge their attitudes towards employing migrant nurses. The importance of support from peers, contact with nursing bodies, and support and networking with community groups were also highlighted as ways of assisting the integration of migrant nurses.

Migrant nurses also needed to take responsibility for learning about the New Zealand health system and for their ongoing learning.

Fonseka said further research was needed, particularly focused on the experience of migrant nurses in New Zealand, as there was little research on the subject.

By Co-editor Teresa O'Connor
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Title Annotation:NEWS FOCUS
Author:O'Connor, Teresa
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Date:May 1, 2007
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