10 Dec 2018

Pacific nurses say pathway to practise too hard

From Nine To Noon, 9:41 am on 10 December 2018

Pasifika nurses in New Zealand say the pathway for trained migrant nurses to practise in this country is too difficult, and if changed, could significantly ease the shortage in the profession.

Doctor in hospital corridor

Photo: 123rf

The Aged Care Association says there are at least 500 nurse vacancies in rest homes around the country as nurses leave the sector for jobs in district health boards, now offering better pay.

The government has also promised to provide an extra 500 hospital nurses. Eseta Finau is a Tongan nurse, living in Auckland, who is on the board of the New Zealand Nurses' Organisation and chair of the Pacific Nurses Section.

She said Pasifika nurses - trained in their home countries - had to pass an expensive, stringent English language test, which many failed, and a bridging course would be far more appropriate.

"These nurses are trained back in the islands and if they choose to move here, migrating here, they have to sit this ... English language test, which is very expensive and you can understand when they move here, they have to earn a living and pay for the family's welfare," Mrs Finau said.

It was also a costly process to move to New Zealand, she said.

"So they have had to work as cheap labour in rest homes while they pursue registering in New Zealand as registered nurses.

"However, having arrived, they don't always have a job, they don't always have the opportunity to get in touch with the nursing council for registration and all those costs."

The Tongan Nurses Association and likewise for other nurses' groups were seeking funding elsewhere for the nurses to go through their English test. 

But funding to sit the tests didn't mean they were going to pass.

"We managed to get some funding from the Ministry of Health a few years ago and we got about 42 nurses and none of them passed," Mrs Finau said.

Even after weeks of classes in the evenings and weekends - and despite English classes in their home countries before moving to New Zealand - nurses could not pass the English test, she said.

"For us, that's a real problem for our pacific nurses."

She had sat through the training given to nurses and said: "Honestly, I think if I had to sit [the test] I would not pass."

The test was not appropriate for Pasifika nurses as it did not reflect their clinical output or account for their work and reporting skills, she said.

She's an advocate for a bridging course which she calls "the most perfect, the most ideal and appropriate test for our nurses".

It's already being used by some senior nurses that have migrated to New Zealand from the Pacific.

They attend a course, complete a theory test, then work under supervision for a year before passing and registering.

"Right now, we have senior nurses who went through that course and are very successful," Mrs Finau said.

A push for academic qualification meant nurses could not use the bridging course, she believed.

"We have lobbied and we have asked, as the South Pacific Nurses Forum as well as our nurses here, if they could reintroduce [the bridging course] and there is no word.

"We have tried many times and it's still not successful and we are not sure why, but we think it's because of the academic push now."

Despite that, there was still a process to become an enrolled nurse rather than a registered nurse.

Enrolled nurses work under the direction of a registered nurse or a nurse practitioner.

There are more than 1500 Pasifika nurses in New Zealand, a number that was growing, Mrs Finau said.