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Australian care travels well

There are many opportunities for local professionals to find work or volunteer overseas. 

For Abbey McDermott, the opportunity to work abroad was too good to miss.

Despite enjoying working as an emergency nurse at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne after graduating from RMIT University, McDermott was keen to see what opportunities were available for her in England.

“I always said I would give myself two years’ work experience in Australia before heading overseas,” McDermott says. “Even though I loved working at St Vincent’s, I thought [it would be good] to broaden my experience while I’m in my 20s.”

So McDermott started the search for work overseas and was lucky enough to be placed by Continental Travelnurse at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London.

“I was eligible for a two-year working holiday visa and was lucky enough after completing my overseas nursing program that I was employed very quickly afterwards.”

McDermott stays busy. She says that whilst there were up to 250 patients a day when she was in St Vincent’s emergency department, more than 400 patients come through emergency daily at St Thomas’.

“Just through the sheer volume of patients alone you gain more experience, as it is so hectic,” she says. “You are involved with everything and you learn so much.”

McDermott’s visa expires at the end of 2013 but she is preparing to be sponsored by Continental Travelnurse for a further three years.

“I love the hospital where I work and have made some really great friends and Continental has looked after me since day one, so I am keen to stay for as long as I can.”

Whilst McDermott was employed in Australia, she felt for nurses now graduating looking for work. She suggested that looking abroad might serve them well.

“I did enjoy working at St Vincent’s and I did learn a lot, but I think the experience I am gaining here will put me in good stead when I return home,” she says. “There are plenty of opportunities abroad for Australian nurses.”

To work in the UK, applicants from overseas must be registered nurses who have practised for at least a year. They must then register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council there.

With nurses finding it increasingly difficult to secure jobs within Australian, many are seeking opportunities abroad. Thousands of Australian nurses head overseas every year to take up paid and volunteer work, not only to broaden their work experience but also to travel.

“We have had thousands of Australian nurses come through our company and frankly we can’t get enough of them,” Continental Travelnurse founder and managing director Leslie Giltz says.

“We place Australian nurses at the best hospitals and medical facilities and the clients love them. They are very well trained, flexible, adaptable and they hit the ground running. Almost every place we assign them to they are asked to take on full-time positions.”

Giltz started Continental Travelnurse back in 2000 and offers opportunities for nurses with at least one year of work experience. The company makes each assignment a new contract. Once workers are on the UK register a contract can be as short as three months.

“We employ the nurses so they receive all the benefits,” Giltz says. “We find that 99 per cent of them want to stay in their original place of contract for more than the original three months, and we have had one Australian nurse stay on for eight years.

“Nurses are going to be in demand around the world for a long time and if you have the skills and experience, the UK is not a bad place to be located.”

Volunteering is also an option. Projects Abroad (www.projects-abroad.com.au) offers opportunities in 28 developing countries. Nurses are placed in either a hospital, clinic or care centre.

Conditions may obviously be vastly different to what’s in Australia, but volunteer nurses learn from senior medical staff who supervise throughout placements.

Lise Willis decided to head to Arusha, in Tanzania, in 2012, in order to do some volunteer nursing.

Upon arriving, she undertook a 15-hour Swahili course, in order to communicate with the locals.

“Most of the staff had basic English but the course helped,” Willis says. “The conditions they endure, including their low wages and low resources, are difficult … They always find a way to cope with anything thrown at them, then after a hard day’s work they travel long distances home, where their work starts all over again.

“On a typical day at the hospital [labour ward] you arrive at 8am for the ward round and handover, doctor’s discussion with staff, cleaning and dusting the ward and delivery room, cleaning and wrapping the instruments for sterilising, and making beds as the patients are discharged. (The sheets and pillow cases were changed only if blood stained, as there were limited replacement sheets and some days there was no water for washing. There was no laundry and all the washing was done by hand in the patient’s bathroom).

“These duties were all done in between deliveries. I also worked in the clinic doing immunisations and documenting. Some days you would weigh and immunise up to 300 babies/children.

“My time at the health centre [in Tanzania] was professionally and personally fulfilling and rewarding and at times very challenging. Once you … clear your mind of all the set ways and routines engrained into your head, then you also realise that it is a far nicer working environment to be part of.”

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