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A chance to see different systems

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Many UK trained nurses decide to spend part of their career working abroad. They may take a series of short-term jobs to earn funds as they travel around, or even emigrate permanently. For most, however, a move abroad is somewhere in between.

Many UK trained nurses decide to spend part of their career working abroad. They may take a series of short-term jobs to earn funds as they travel around, or even emigrate permanently. For most, however, a move abroad is somewhere in between.

There is a wealth of opportunities for nurses wanting to experience life overseas for a fixed term that is long enough to get a real feel for their new country and to broaden their practice horizons. In many cases nurses also have the option to extend their stay if they wish.

Naturally, UK-trained nurses are in greatest demand in English-speaking countries, and while they often have some form of adaptation requirements to fulfill, for the most part, nurses with a general qualification find it easy to gain employment in countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, as well as parts of the Middle East. Those who have gone on to specialise may find their skills make them an attractive proposition, but this depends on both the specialty and their chosen destination.

Tracy Swallow has used her skills both to help fund her travels and to spend a longer period in one country. Ms Swallow began her nurse training in 1983 in Norfolk and took her first job on a burns and plastic surgery unit. She also qualified as a midwife in 1989.

On a 15-month round-the-world trip she had her first experience of working overseas, spending six months working as a midwife in New Zealand. Back in the UK Ms Swallow qualified as a neonatal nurse and worked in this field for the next 10 years – apart from a 10-month trip to South America.

Having enjoyed her travels and her experiences of working abroad Ms Swallow decided she would like to try living overseas for a time. After failing to gain a promotion in her last job in the UK she noticed an advertisement for neonatal nurses in Vancouver, Canada. After an interview in London she was offered a job and she and her husband decided the opportunity was too good to miss. They originally intended to stay for a year, but have been there since 2002. While they do plan to return to the UK they have no immediate plans to do so.

The Swallows’ move was made easier thanks to the assistance of the Provincial Health Services Authority – one of the six health authorities in British Columbia, which had recruited her.

‘Their initial information, email contact and patience were a great help,’ says Ms Swallow. ‘Knowing that the basics such as transport from the airport and accommodation were organised was a real relief to us.’

She points out that the transition to living and working overseas is not always easy. ‘Coming to a new country seems as if you start from scratch and build up again,’ she explains. ‘And for a short time I was the only one working, so finances were a problem as we were unsure about value for money.’

Ms Swallow says life in Canada is similar to in the UK, with small but significant differences to get accustomed to – such as purchase taxes being added on to the price of goods when you buy them, rather than included in the marked price. There are also always things to miss from home – particularly for sports fans. ‘I don’t think I would have lasted so long if I couldn’t listen to Five Live,’ she says. ‘I can’t really get into American football, baseball or hockey.’

The standard of living and climate in British Columbia are similar to those in the UK, but a major advantage of the beautiful city of Vancouver is the fact that residents have easy access to skiing in winter – and the countryside around the city.

In work there are also differences and the first challenge is to learn how things are done in Canada rather than assume everything is done as it is in the UK – and to accept the Canadian way.

‘There are some aspects about work that I feel very strongly about but have learnt you can’t come in and say “In England we do….”,’ points out Ms Swallow. ‘I was fortunate to get an educator’s job, which has allowed me to move certain aspects of the job as a neonatal nurse forward.’

Although she fully intends to return to the UK Ms Swallow does not know when. ‘I’m definitely not ready to come home yet but know I will – and I also know that will be another huge change because as much as I’ve kept in contact with home I’ve changed and so has the British system.’

Many nurses in the UK are currently facing job uncertainties as their trusts battle to balance their budgets. For those who like the idea of broadening their personal and professional horizons a period living and working abroad may be the answer.

Benefits of working abroad:

• Gain first-hand experience of other healthcare systems

• Experience other cultures and ways of life

• Fund overseas travel

• Develop new clinical skills

• Experience new environments and climates

• Broaden your horizons

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