Career advice

How never to let racism hold back your nursing career

As a migrant nurse, I knew I must create my own career opportunities – and here’s how

As a migrant nurse, I knew I must seize the initiative to create professional development opportunities after seeing how colleagues from overseas felt sidelined

I came to the UK in 2011, two years after qualifying as a nurse in India and having passed my IELTS (international English language testing system) exam. I had only worked in a small hospital in Kerala before coming to the UK and did not have much nursing experience.

My first placement in England was in a nursing home, where I did my training to become a registered nurse. I was really looking forward to working in the UK, but my initial experience was not

...

As a migrant nurse, I knew I must seize the initiative to create professional development opportunities after seeing how colleagues from overseas felt sidelined

Ask yourself where you want to get to, and set the goals necessary to reach that destination Picture: iStock

I came to the UK in 2011, two years after qualifying as a nurse in India and having passed my IELTS (international English language testing system) exam. I had only worked in a small hospital in Kerala before coming to the UK and did not have much nursing experience.

My first placement in England was in a nursing home, where I did my training to become a registered nurse. I was really looking forward to working in the UK, but my initial experience was not what I had hoped it would be.

Everything was new to me – the culture, the pattern of working, the people. But I had no proper support from the other staff, and there was not enough opportunity to learn what I was supposed to during my training period.

I was then shocked to be told by another overseas nurse that opportunities for progression were limited to people from abroad, and that management ‘mostly support white people.’

I wasn’t prepared to accept that racism might block my career progression

As a nurse who had just come from abroad after dreaming for years of working in the UK, this was devastating to hear. Was this true? Was there racism in the workplace that could be a barrier to my career progression?

I wasn’t ready to accept this. I believed in myself and what I could achieve as a nurse, so I started to raise my concerns with management. I said I didn’t feel like I was getting the training I needed to become a nurse, and the number of domestic tasks I was being given, such as laundry and cleaning, were affecting my learning time.

‘My career development has not been accidental; I set goals for myself and am committed to achieving them, through hard work and determination’

The manager listened to my concerns and said she would raise them. That was a new beginning for me, and my confidence grew as changes started to happen in the workplace. It taught me that being brave and challenging poor practice is an essential part of being a nurse, and that you have to be courageous and speak out.

Moving to an acute nursing role in England was a fresh challenge

After registering with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in March 2012, I worked in another nursing home while applying for jobs in the NHS. In June 2014, I secured a role as a Band 5 staff nurse in the emergency assessment unit at Oxford University Hospitals.

Having never worked in a hospital in England before, this was a new challenge for me. As well as new policies and protocols, there was the fast pace of the environment and flow of patients.

Although it was difficult at first, every challenge brought an opportunity to build up my knowledge and skills, and just under 18 months later, I was promoted to a Band 6 acting charge nurse post, which became permanent four months later.

‘You have as much right to progress your career as anyone else, so believe in yourself and know that you can become the nurse you want to be’

I am now in the final modules of my master’s degree in advanced clinical practice, and am on track to become an advanced clinical practitioner in the emergency assessment unit.

There were quite a few applicants for the charge nurse post, but I was the only nurse from an Asian background to apply for the role. I am also the first person in my department to start advanced clinical practice training.

I am a foreign nurse in the UK – how do I further my nursing career?

  • Do your research Looking into career opportunities will help you learn more about the wide range of nursing roles available. Doing some research on advanced practice and speaking to other clinical practitioners in advanced roles inspired me, boosting my confidence to take my nursing career to the next level
  • Set yourself goals Think about where you would like to be in five years’ time and work out what you need to do to get there. Why not aim high? If you want to be a chief nurse, what skills and knowledge do you need for this role, and how can you get them?
  • Seek support Good role models and coaches can play an important part in advising and guiding you to make sure you are on the right path. If you want to become an advanced practitioner, ask if you can shadow somebody in the role for a day to see if it may be a good fit for you. And if you are considering doing a master’s degree, get support from your manager – this takes a lot of hard work, so support in the workplace is key
  • Ask about apprenticeship opportunities I successfully applied for an apprenticeship at the trust to do my master’s degree. Oxford University Hospitals has an apprenticeship team that links with Oxford Brookes University, so find out if anything similar is available at your workplace. My course fees are paid for by the apprenticeship team and my employer gives me 7.5 hours of paid study leave each week until I finish my dissertation
  • Communicate with others Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you want to know something, don’t be embarrassed to ask; it doesn't mean you are failing, it just shows you are keen to learn. Talk to colleagues, both in nursing and the wider multidisciplinary team, about what their roles involve as you can learn different skills from different people. And ask about sponsorship and apprenticeship opportunities in your workplace that may be available to you
  • Be brave and don’t give up It may take months or years to gain the knowledge and skills you need to reach your goals, so stay focused on your dreams and what you want to achieve. You have as much right to progress your career as anyone else, so believe in yourself and know that you can become the nurse you want to be

There are equal opportunities for everyone, provided you are determined

My career development has not been accidental; I set goals for myself and am committed to achieving them, through hard work and determination.

By sharing my career development journey, I hope to show there are equal opportunities for everyone, irrespective of caste, creed, culture, colour or nationality, provided you are determined and supported to achieve your goals.

If you have the skills, enthusiasm and motivation to learn, doors will open for you. Always believe the best of you is yet to come.


Related articles


Want to read more?

Subscribe for unlimited access

Enjoy 1 month's access for £1 and get:

  • Full access to nursing standard.com and the Nursing Standard app
  • Monthly digital edition
  • RCNi Portfolio and interactive CPD quizzes
  • RCNi Learning with 200+ evidence-based modules
  • 10 articles a month from any other RCNi journal

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs