Nurses around the World: Motivations, Challenges and Welfare

International Nurses Day is celebrated on 12th of May this year. Nurses play a pivotal role in keeping global health services running, but what is very interesting to see is the considerable amount of foreign nurses that work in countries other than their own.

The USA, Europe and the UK are three areas where this is seen most clearly. Nurses from around the world, especially originating from developing countries, work in these Northern Hemisphere hospitals. There are many reasons for this and this article will explore why so many nurses choose to immigrate to these countries. It will also analyze the effects that this mass immigration is having on the nurses and the importance of nurses’ welfare.

Why do nurses immigrate?

The International Journal of Nursing Science published an article outlining some of the reasons why nurses immigrate to countries like the USA, the UK and countries in Europe. Firstly, there is a dramatic shortage of nurses all over the world. There are, however, both push- and pull-factors contributing to the immigration of nurses globally.

Pull factors can be defined as the factors that attract nurses to work in countries other than their own, specifically developed countries. For instance, the availability of jobs is higher abroad, there is opportunity of career advancement, their professional skills are recognized abroad, the quality of life is higher in a developed country, the salary is better, and there are more social and retirement benefits.

Push factors are the opposite. These factors drive nurses away from their own homes to work abroad. The opposite of all the pull factors can translate into push factors, because the conditions for work aren’t as favorable for a nurse working in a developing country than they are in a developed country, but there are also other more contributing push-factors. In their own countries nurses often lack the resources to work effectively. Sometimes their working conditions are dangerous or unstable and in some countries the political situation is unwanted. All of these elements push nurses away from the home countries to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

Better salaries are the main focus

While there are clearly many contributing factors as to why nurses immigrate to Europe, the USA and the UK, there is one reason that remains the most dominant: the salaries are better abroad. Simply put, if a nurse can earn a better salary elsewhere, he or she can provide for a family better, whether the family migrates with them or not. International money transfer agencies have made it accessible to nurses to send the money they earn home to care for their families, should they not migrate with them.

It should be noted that this increase in salary does not necessarily mean nurses earn a good wage. Compared to other professions, nurses are still compensated poorly in most parts of the world. But even after considering this fact, nurses can still earn a comparatively higher salary abroad than they would back home. In the Philippines, for example, a registered nurse only earns a small percentage of what he or she could earn in the United States or Europe.

Are they taking the jobs of locals?

Every once in a while unhappiness arises about foreign nurses taking the jobs of local nurses. Some feel that, especially in the USA, the government should focus on training nurses locally, and incentivizing graduates to go to nursing school, rather than spending its money and resources on organizing permits for foreign nurses.

The other side of the coin shows that foreign nurses have a very good cultural influence on countries like the USA. They assist other nurses, fellow medical care professionals, and even their patients in becoming more culturally aware and tolerant. What is more interesting is that foreigners generally have a much stronger interest in becoming nurses than American citizens. Recent years have seen a steep drop in applicants to nursing schools in America.

It therefore shows that foreign nurses are not taking potential jobs from locals; they are merely filling a very large gap in the market.

Adjustment challenges

It is very difficult for anyone to leave their families home and travel to a new country to work. Since so many nurses work abroad, research has been done specifically on their adjustment and it shows that nurses have difficulty adjusting when they first arrive.

While they need to adjust to a new work environment, they also have to do this without their support network, which makes the transition even more challenging. Language and cultural barriers are also hard to breech initially. Nurses report feelings of isolation, loneliness, frustration and low self-esteem. This is why it is very important for foreign nurses to join a support network as soon as they arrive. These networks of foreign nurses will help new arrivals to cope with the stresses better.

Welfare of nurses

Apart from the fact that new arrivals in foreign countries require a good support system, foreign nurses can also face discrimination. This could impact their salary, their working conditions, or the hours they are expected to work. Oftentimes immigrants don’t have a strong foot to stand on when it comes to issues of welfare, yet it is vital that countries take care of their nurses, especially considering the aforementioned need.

It is for this reason that many associations of foreign nurses have been established. In the United States, for example, the Philippine Nurses Association of America supports Filipino nurses living and working in the USA. Their mission is to look after the welfare of their members, but also to provide a standard of nursing professionals who will enter the job force in America.

This International nurses day is the perfect opportunity to show appreciation for the hard work nurses do. This article provided some insight into the difficulties still faced by nurses worldwide, especially immigrant nurses. It is vital that governments in developed countries properly care for the foreign nurses in their country.