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Trust hopes chance of overseas work experience will encourage nurses to stay

London’s Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust is in talks with similar hospitals in Australia to set up an exchange programme for nursing staff. Lynne Pearce spoke to trust chief nurse Eamonn Sullivan

London’s Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust is in talks with similar hospitals in Australia to set up an exchange programme for nursing staff. Lynne Pearce spoke to trust chief nurse Eamonn Sullivan


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A new exchange programme that will enable younger nurses to gain overseas experience could also improve staff retention in the longer term, says the chief nurse at an internationally renowned London trust.

‘It’s not a magic bullet, but it’s a different kind of offer,’ says Eamonn Sullivan, chief nurse at the Royal Marsden. ‘We need to think of innovative ways to support and keep our nurses. If they are going to travel, can we help with some structured clinical placements that will enhance their career and experience but keep them connected to us?’

Still in its planning stages, the scheme follows research by the trust looking at nurses’ experiences of working at the Marsden, including what prompts some to leave. Among the issues highlighted was the emotional burden of looking after cancer patients, especially for younger staff with less life experience.

Career break

‘Caring for young cancer patients can prompt them to reassess their own life choices,’ says Mr Sullivan. While some were leaving London, returning home to be closer to their families, others opted to go overseas.

‘They are self-selecting a career break – and why shouldn’t they?’ he says. ‘It’s not a massive number, but enough to make us think about doing something different for that particular group.’

The desire to travel is something Mr Sullivan understands. ‘I got my intensive care exam results on the Monday and was in Sydney by Friday,’ he says. ‘I’ve travelled lots as a nurse. It’s about recognising the path people take and adding more structure to it.’

Older nurses could also benefit

For Mr Sullivan, the offer is likely to be one of several, with others targeted at nurses at different stages of their careers. ‘This isn’t just about attracting and supporting young graduate nurses at the beginning of their career,’ he says.

‘We’re also looking at what we can do for those who might be wanting to start a family, and those nearing retirement.’

Discussions with two Australian cancer hospitals opened in early 2017, and a team travelled there from London to explore the possibilities.

‘It’s very early days but the first signs from colleagues in Australia is that they’re receptive to the idea,’ says Mr Sullivan. ‘It’s going to be small-scale. I’d anticipate no more than ten nurses, and we’ll also need to evaluate it.’

Professional journeys

The ambition is to make it an exchange programme, with Australian nurses coming to work at the Royal Marsden for a limited time – although it’s easier for UK nurses to achieve Australian registration than vice versa, says Mr Sullivan.

Depending on what the reciprocal arrangements might be, the trust is looking at a minimum of three months but hopefully longer.

There are benefits for the trust too, he believes. ‘Nurses will be continuing their professional journey,’ says Mr Sullivan. ‘Working in another health system in a different country can add a huge richness, with a much deeper understanding of what it means to be a registered nurse.

‘You gain so many skills – confidence, self-belief and professional practice. It can’t be under-estimated.’


Lynne Pearce is a freelance health journalist 

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