Smoothing the journey for migrant nurses

One migrant nurse is drawing on her experiences to help other overseas trained nurses on their way to Australia.
One migrant nurse is drawing on her experiences to help other overseas trained nurses on their way to Australia.

After being bitten by the travel bug in the early 90s, RN Se Ok Ohr left her Korean home to set off on an Aussie adventure. “I had three years experience in Korea as a registered nurse and I just wanted to do further study and see the world,” Se Ok recalls.But when the Newcastle RN first arrived, she struggled to find any programs or support for a smooth transition into the Australian workforce, which was a health care system foreign to her at the time. “I don’t remember actually getting any help,” Se Ok told The Lamp.

So she made her own way by studying English and completing a conversion course at the University of Newcastle, allowing her to register as a nurse in Australia.

“I did a 10-month English course,” she said. “But because English isn’t my first language, I had to face communication issues.

“I didn’t have difficulties in understanding English at all, but people found it difficult to understand me from time to time because of my accent.”

After overcoming those initial communication barriers and completing her studies, Se Ok returned to Korea before officially migrating to Australia in 1995.

“I’d been here for two years already, so I knew exactly what to do,” the RN explained. “While I was studying at the University of Newcastle I worked as an AiN (as a student nurse), so I also knew how to find accommodation.”

Now, 20 years on, the RN has become a Nurse Manager for the Hunter New England Area Health Service (HNEAHS), where she has established programs to help overseas trained nurses make their transition to Australia, while also training medical professionals to resolve conflicts and bridge cultural gaps that may arise in the workplace.

“We’re targeting overseas trained nurses to meet the Australian standard of nursing care and trying to help them settle in Australia. At the same time my program is also trying to train Australian nurses,” Se Ok said.

“I try to mentor overseas trained nurses and educate Nurse Managers and Clinical Nurse Educators as to why certain issues come up. So we talk about that and come up with solutions to try to sort the issues out.”

After being sponsored by NSW Health to conduct research in America and England late last year, Se Ok has developed multiple orientation programs, manuals and arrival kits on the workplace experiences of migrant nurses.

“We provide specialised orientation programs that include very specific programs about the Australian health care system and also time management, different models of nursing, medications, safety issues in Australia and how to deal with racism; so we talk about different topics that are very specific to the Australian background.

“We try to give them this information so that they can make choices to make it easier, so that they can understand what it’s like before they come.”

Since starting out on her own professional, yet personal, journey as a migrant nurse, the HNEAHS nurse manager now sees the situation from both an overseas and an Australian perspective.

“It’s all about helping managers to understand what’s going on and also helping overseas qualified nurses learn what to do, so they’re not just left out – alone.”