Supporting international nurses

Gamu Nyasoro writes about the potential pitfalls that await newly recruited nurses, what she and her branch have done to help them settle and how she has helped UNISON to develop a more structured programme of support.

My name is Gamu Nyasoro. I’m a clinical skills and simulation nurse manager in the NHS and an elected member of our national nursing and midwifery occupational group committee.

I’m proud to work for the NHS in England and also very proud of my Zimbabwean heritage. I know how challenging it can be to come to work in the UK in our NHS and as a UNISON steward I do lots of work to support new nursing colleagues who have arrived from overseas.

Over the years I have worked alongside many nurses from overseas but when the NMC and the Home office put nursing on the shortage list, I started to see a big increase.

Whilst working with them as a ward manager, I got to know some of the challenges they met they face in integrating within their new society and coping with the diverse workforce. I felt the need and the urge to help them as I did remember what it was like when I migrated here and how I wished I could have had someone to guide me especially if we shared a similar background.

This drove me to start interacting with overseas nurse already in the UK and those that were aspiring to join the UK. We then formed WhatsApp groups where I had others like me and we shared our experiences of what life in general is like here, how to know how to check schools for their children so they knew which areas to look for a job. Simple things like completing the job application forms for organisations like the NHS that doesn’t look at people CVs.

I remember making audios on the dos and don’ts and the things that they needed to include. I remember speaking with one nurse and having to tell her you need to blow you own trumpet on that application form. Tell them what you have achieved and what you have been doing! This came as a real surprise to this nurse as she said that she was raised with the notion that vanity is a sin and that you let your work speak for yourself! She did listen and managed to get herself a job in the West Midlands.

Many of these are simple things that we know and take for granted but to the overseas nurses these can be major changes. I held a zoom meeting to do mock interviews to try and help the overseas nurses to navigate the different styles that are expected here.

During the pandemic my phone was pinging messages nearly every minute from nurses that had heard about me and that I would help them. I tried my best and at the same time I did say that as I am only one person as it was becoming overwhelming.

When the first batch of nurses came from my groups they took picture of themselves where it says “welcome to Heathrow Airport”. It became a trend and when others came everyone had to have that picture. For me to see that picture knowing the hurdles they had to jump to reach here was just amazing.

Shortly after their migration some experience difficulties in their roles. These include flexible working to balance work and being a parent, issues with poor inductions and being made to feel unwelcome.

In one vivid case one nurse ended up being referred to the NMC querying their fitness to practise. Thankfully the NMC recognised that it was an issue with a lack of induction and support. 3 nurses who had migrated ended up going back to their countries as they couldn’t cope with the pressures and the racial discrimination that one of them had faced.

When I asked them, do you have representation, they would say no I don’t. When I investigated further I discovered that no one had given them any information or told them that they had a right to belong to a trade union.

This is a common problem we find in trying to support overseas nurses. They often don’t join a union before they have a problem which makes it very difficult to get them the right support and representation. When you look further into this issue you find that some of these nurses are coming from countries that outlaws or makes it difficult for any worker to be in a trade union as you are labelled a troublemaker.

So, as someone who understood their plight and still was helpless to help some of these nurses or get them required support, I turned to my own union, UNISON, to see if we could assist or guide these nurses in making sure they do have someone there for them when things don’t go well.

UNISON didn’t disappoint and in my local area we asked to be included within their induction programme the moment overseas join their employer. With further inquiries, I felt we still needed to do our best to ensure these nurses hear about UNISON and the support we offer as early as possible.

That’s why I’ve worked with the UNISON Health Team to establish and run a monthly webinar to provide information for overseas nurses. We’ve been running these webinars in the evening once a month where we talk about common problems nurses experience and how to get support from UNISON. They’ve been really successful and we’ve had nearly 100 nurses joining some of these sessions and asking questions.

But it’s still really important that UNISON branches reach out to new overseas nurses. If you’re a branch secretary or steward could you reach out to the International Recruitment lead at your organisation and ask if UNISON could run an induction session for them? Are you also doing enough to encourage overseas nurse members to come forward as workplace reps and stewards?

It’s really important that migrant healthcare workers get treated fairly by their employers, by the NHS, by the NMC and the Home Office. I’ve worked closely with our health and policy teams in UNISON to raise concerns about repayment clauses, family reunification and language testing. The Nursing and Midwifery committee is planning to raise some of these issues in a motion to our health conference for next year.

And we want to do more to involve overseas nurses in the work of the union. Next year we’re starting an overseas nurses network for UNISON migrant nurses to come together to support each-other and to give expert advice to our health team. If you’d like to consider joining the network please e-mail with your membership number and contact details.

We need to do much more to make the NHS and social care welcoming workplaces for overseas nurses. I’m glad to be working with UNISON on trying to make this happen.


Gamu Nyasoro. RN. UNISON steward.