Australia and Scotland have longstanding cultural links and the Scots have given Australia many important historical figures. Sir George Hoist Reid for example, was the fourth prime minister of Australia. Peter Dodds McCormick, the composer of the national anthem 'Advance Australia Fair' was born in the Port of Glasgow before migrating down under.
More recent imports include the Young brothers and Bon Scott of AC/DC, as well as Colin Hay and Jimmy Barnes.
And in turn we gave them Home and Away, Neighbours, the Walkabout pub chain and backpackers by the truckload.
But WA Health is seeking to redress that imbalance by sending much needed nurse recruits to the NHS in Scotland.
In a world first arrangement, nurses who graduate from WA universities have been offered the chance to take up graduate positions in the NHS Grampian region, which provides health services to the 500,000 people living in the Aberdeen city, Aberdeenshire and Moray regions.
In 2017, the executive director of nursing from NHS Grampian visited Australia with a view to filling their nursing shortages, however, rules that stated nurses needed 12 months experience to get registration in the UK scuppered any plans.
Eventually, after lobbying from the NHS in Scotland, rules were relaxed by the UK's Nursing and Midwifery Council, allowing this mutually beneficial exchange to happen. As it stands, approximately 1,100 graduate nurses in WA don’t get a job each year due to limited places in recognised grad programs.
Leesa Kerr, principal nursing advisor in WA’s Department of Health, sees this as a great way for nurses to upskill while gaining necessary experience, and that’s how Kerr and her colleagues sold the idea to the government.
“Unfortunately, it's actually seen that our graduate programme is a necessity, where really it's not. It's just something we have developed over the years to help support people. It shouldn't stop you from getting a job. But it seems to be that way, [it] seems that's the way it's sort of gone,” she said.
“The WA Minister Roger Cook is really supportive of it … and so is the health department. Because they can understand that while we're going to lose them now, they're actually going to come out with all of this global experience and knowledge, and then they'll be really valuable for us because they're our future leaders in health.”
WA Health sent emails to nurse graduates who were unable to land a job, informing them of the opportunity to go overseas and after an interview with recruiters, 90 per cent of nurses had job offers, with 110 placements.
The nurses then sit tests to gain registration in the UK and the program offers placements of two years, after which the nurses can decide to stay or move on.
“I am so excited and cannot wait to go,” said recent grad Cameron Lawrence. "I am excited not only to work in a different country but being based in Scotland for approximately two years will give us a great opportunity to travel to different parts of Europe as everywhere is so close."
Lawrence and partner Christopher Dann, both Notre Dame grads, are preparing to make the journey together.
Both Lawrence and Dann say they will miss the WA weather and their families, but the small town of Aberdeen has its own appeals.
“I will miss bumping into people I know when I go for walks or go to the shops, but I think with Aberdeen being so small I will get this back,” said Dann.
“I will miss my family; it’s going to be difficult living away from them. But, I did go to boarding school for three years, so I have some experience being away from them. I definitely will miss the ocean though. I love the water – swimming and scuba diving. However, with the weather I don’t think I will be doing much of that in Aberdeen!” Lawrence said.
Apart from missing home and potential run-ins with haggis and deep-fried Mars bars, not much scares the pair, although they concede the Scottish accents might be a struggle to decipher.
“I think it will be a struggle on both ends but I will learn quickly being exposed to it every day... at least, I hope so,” said Dann.
“Honestly, I am very scared about the accent,” said Lawrence. “I think it sounds amazing, however I think I will struggle with understanding my patients. Hopefully, I will get used to it quickly.”
More than anything, Dann and Lawrence are worried they will like the experience too much and won’t want to come home.
“I am way more excited than I am scared. I am slightly worried about being in a new place but having the support of Christopher coming with me, as well as all the support from everyone involved both here in WA and in Aberdeen, I think it will all be okay,” said Lawrence.
For Kerr, the excitement is evident as she talks about the future research exchange between the two nations.
Kerr says the World Health Organization has taken notice also. They see the benefits of an exchange model that sees one nation helping another, where too often they see nurses poached from developing nations with no help in return. They also plan to publish future research between NHS Grampian and WA Health on the project.
“It's great for us. It's supporting them and it's a really good thing to show that we're actually listening to our nurses and midwives, and we're actually acknowledging that they can't get work. But we can provide them with something else,” Kerr said.Do you have an idea for a story?
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