Career advice

International recruitment: this is a foreign world to them. I say ‘you can do it’

Gamu Mhizha came from Zimbabwe to England to train in 2003. Now she is encouraging other internationally recruited nurses to aim high

Gamu Mhizha has forged a successful nursing career since coming from Zimbabwe to England to train in 2003. Now she is encouraging other internationally recruited nurses to aim high


Gamu Mhizha: ‘We’re welcoming here. It’s a family’

Internationally recruited nurses can feel overwhelmed when they first arrive in the UK but, at a Northamptonshire trust, one nurse has lived experience of what it takes to help them settle in. 

‘They are coming from different healthcare systems, they don’t know the etiquette, and this is a foreign world to them. They can feel afraid,’ says Gamu Mhizha, who is originally from Zimbabwe, but came to the Midlands in 2003 to study nursing at Wolverhampton University. 

‘I encourage them, reminding them that they are already nurses,’ she says. ‘They just need to learn the ways and the policies of the UK.’

Last stage before getting on the register

At Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, those with a nursing qualification from their country of origin take part in the international return to practice programme. 

This involves supporting them to complete a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) approved exam, the Objective Structured Clinical Examination, at Northampton University. Following this training, the trust has achieved a 100% success rate, gaining more than 78 nurses.

‘Having such diverse international staff is one of the major reasons why Kettering is so unique’

‘They may have doubted themselves, but they also know they’ve had to go through many hoops to get here,’ says Ms Mhizha. ‘This is the last stage before they get on the register. I tell them, you can do it.’

A diverse and welcoming place

As one of the largest employers in the county, with almost 1,200 registered nurses, the acute healthcare trust has recruited people from almost every country in the world. 

‘Having such diverse international staff is one of the major reasons why Kettering is so unique,’ says Ms Mhizha. ‘We’re welcoming here. It’s a family and people smile and say hello to each other – whether they’re a porter, a nurse or a director. 

‘You can also feel you’re progressing your career. I’m a nurse manager, so when others look at me, they can think it’s possible.’

Career progression and education

After qualifying in 2007, Ms Mhizha joined the trust the following year, first working on a respiratory ward before moving to a short-stay assessment unit. 

In 2016, she moved into education as a clinical skills and simulation facilitator, helping medical students gain vital skills such as cannulation and venepuncture.

‘Many of our patients are from different countries or have visited them. We can engage better with our patients and their different cultures’

From the outset, she was keen to have a simulation lab, as she knew it would transform education for multi-professional teams. She and the education team explored what other organisations had done to achieve this and created a business case to make it happen. Ms Mhizha's efforts came to fruition last year when the new facility opened, with funding from Health Education England. 

‘It looks like a real ward, with everything you need to develop your clinical skills, including a range of mannequins,’ explains Ms Mhizha. ‘Students are able to practise in a controlled environment, rather than on a patient. It also means they can learn from errors.’

Stepping up and development for BAME staff

In February 2018, she became ward sister on a medical assessment unit and hopes to start a master’s degree soon, having already completed leadership courses, including the NHS Leadership Academy’s Stepping Up development programme, for aspiring black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) healthcare staff.  

‘I’m looking at different career pathways and to achieve my goals, I need experience of governance,’ she says. ‘I want to be a chief nursing officer one day, but to get there I need the tools.’

In 2018, she also helped set up the trust’s BME network, which meets quarterly and is open to all staff from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. 

‘We need a platform to discuss common issues and find ways of empowering each other, making sure our voices are heard,’ says Ms Mhizha. The group also has social activities to enable people to integrate and settle into communities.

Cultural engagement in an ever-smaller world

Among the issues they hope to tackle is the need for longer time off for overseas nursing staff who are visiting relatives back home. 

‘You’re not going on holiday. It can be difficult for some people, especially those who have to travel for several days,’ she says.

‘People should get to know their colleagues and their culture first, before they make assumptions’

For Ms Mhizha, diversity is strength. ‘For the hospital and the NHS, having such a diverse workforce brings in a wealth of knowledge of people who have lived in different situations and societies. We all share one calling – to work for the health service,’ she says. 

‘The world is small now and many of our patients are from different countries or have visited them. We can engage better with our patients and their different cultures.’

Overcoming prejudiced assumptions

But sadly, prejudice is an enduring reality. ‘Racism is an unfortunate thing about the world,’ says Ms Mhizha. ‘It’s become subtle and a lot of it is based on plain ignorance. Someone may say, do you speak African? It’s like asking if you speak European.’

Understanding each other’s backgrounds is crucial, she believes. 

‘I would advise people to get to know their colleagues and their culture first, before they make assumptions,’ says Ms Mhizha. ‘For example, I once had a manager who said I must be hiding something because when I spoke to them, I always looked down. 

‘I had to explain that, in my culture, if you’re my elder or my boss, I lower my eyes as a mark of respect.’


Lynne Pearce is a health journalist

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