“Historically, nurses who migrated to Australia came from England, New Zealand, and Canada – more English-speaking countries really”, Ylona says. This has changed in recent years, and nurses are now coming from countries where English might be their second or even their third language.
According to Ylona, some countries intentionally educate nurses so they can migrate to Australia. Often, the nurses will send money back home to support their families. “This is actually a multi-billion-dollar industry,” she says. However, international nurses do not only migrate to Australia for the money. “Quite often, it is the lifestyle, work and professional opportunities, but sometimes it is also to escape war or poverty.”
Many cultures, many languages, one hospital
Language is often seen as a challenge for international nurses in Australia. Even if they are originally from English speaking countries like Canada, some of them struggle with the Aussie vernacular, which even differs between states like Victoria or Queensland. And, of course, the colloquialisms – the true-blue Aussie slang. Think esky and thongs, a bickie for brekkie, and downing a stubby by the barbie.
Internationally qualified nurses can sometimes find it difficult to understand what some patients are trying to say. There are many local indigenous languages and lots of foreign accents with patients from over 150 different countries represented in Australia’s multicultural society. “Patients would speak their normal language, of course, and they would use colloquialisms all the time. That was quite challenging,” Ylona says. However, there are also advantages when a nurse spoke the same native language as the patient or client.
“But it is more about the difference in healthcare systems. A lot of nurses come from countries with a patriarchal model. Whereas here in Australia, we have a much more collaborative approach. We work as a team. We work with the patients. We don't tell them, we ask them. We speak with them, and we collaborate.”
Dr Ylona Chun Tie