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Transitioning to a New Healthcare System Taught Me the Value of Mentorship and Integration

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In 2022, when I decided to relocate to the UK, I was focusing on career progression and development. The application was nerve-wracking, but the process was seamless, and I’m glad about the outcome. When I arrived in the UK, there were a lot of challenges and changes to make. Getting use to the climate, environment, and culture was rigorous. Transitioning was a Herculean task with very limited integration, such as mentoring by another female Nigerian nurse.

The question is, should buddying with a nurse in the United Kingdom be part of integration for internationally recruited nurses?

Indeed, with the level of changes that come with moving to a new country to work in healthcare and cater for people with a different culture, buddying post-migration would be an excellent incentive for internationally recruited nurses, especially when the health systems are polar opposites. For instance, while the UK offers free healthcare for consultation, treatment, procedures, or investigations such as CT scans, MRI, and many other examinations, except for those who choose to go private, Nigeria operates a pay-as-you-go healthcare system where patients pay before they receive any form of treatment.

Thankfully, a group of us Nigerian nurses met Dr Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi when she was invited to speak about public speaking for Nigerian international nurses. While Dr Bardi was speaking, we whispered among ourselves about what she represented for us: a feeling of freedom, courage, and compassion. More importantly, it dawned on me that this is what I have been searching for, what we all have been searching for: an educated voice of experience, knowledge, extensive career capital, and dual cultural intelligence.

It’s very challenging to find someone who would mentor you, listen to you, tutor you, and do all this for free. But most importantly, someone who would do that and still invite you, reach out to you, and support a group of nurses individually and as a group.

Dr Bardi spoke about blogging as a means we can use to share our experiences and make an impact. I was really interested. I read up on some of the fantastic, positively influential blogs that Dr Bardi had written. I could not understand how much could be conveyed in less than 1000 words, but of course, I knew that I could depend on her to coach me and that would enable me to write this blog. When you’re moving into a new country, you envisage the challenges that could confront you, but I spoke to Bardi and she said, “No, rather tell me about the positive things that have happened to you.” In the world that we live in, where people are more interested in listening to negative things, it was refreshing to have somebody say, “What has been your best experience of transitioning, of migrating into the UK?” To be honest, I was so glad that somebody was going to talk about the best things about being in the UK. I talked about being blown away by technology. Even though I came for career advancement, just watching the fact that healthcare is free compared to Nigeria, where it’s pay-as-you-go, and looking at the unavailability of resources or things as simple as injections: syringes, needles, personal protective equipment such as hand gloves, masks, aprons—you know the knowledge that you require is learning. So, I decided I was going to write this blog to share my experiences in the UK, comparing my practice in Nigeria and evaluating how the clinical practice here has developed my career.

My recommendation to nurses who are planning to migrate to the UK from Nigeria in particular, and Africa in general, is to find a nurse mentor before you arrive in the UK because some things are best learnt post-arrival in a new country. In other words, think integration before transition.

For the UK government and NHS recruiters, please reach out and recruit nurse mentors with experiential knowledge in clinical and nursing education such as Dr Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi. Work with them to establish a culturally sensitive post-recruitment and transition programme for internationally recruited nurses.

Izehiuwa Maureen Okuonghae is an acute medicine specialist at Kings College Hospital NHS Trust in London.

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