Australia WA facing nurse brain drain despite massive recruitment drive to boost hospitals
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When Tiffany Riley graduated as a nurse from Murdoch University in 2018, her experience of applying for graduate programs in Western Australia was "disappointing".
"I wanted to get into the hospital system, because that's where all of the shortage is … but both years I was unsuccessful." she said.
While she was able to find some nursing work in the community, Ms Riley said it was "very, very basic" stuff and so, to further her career, she and her young family moved interstate.
"In Victoria, I could apply for a job with [an] agency and start working at the bottom and work my way up to hospital work," she said.
The WA government is trying to drive up the number of nurses working in public hospitals, with Premier Mark McGowan saying earlier this month he had launched the "biggest recruitment campaign in history" for the sector.
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"We're recruiting 1,000 nurses this year, 1,000 nurses next year [and] we have the biggest health budget per capita of any state in Australia," he told a press conference last week.
But in a letter to WA Health Minister Roger Cook, written a fortnight ago, the Australian Nurses Federation (ANF) described the shortage of nurses in WA as "severe" and urged the government to outline how it plans to "fill the gaps in staffing in the short, medium and long term".
Overseas-trained nurses and graduates already in WA say it is difficult to find work.
Some who spoke to the ABC say along with a recruitment drive, the government should fund more graduate positions and relax the rules on overseas qualifications.
Specialist training restricted to those already working in the field
Ms Riley harbours plans of furthering her qualifications but has hit another snag.
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"A lot of the acute jobs, you are required to do a postgraduate degree, [and] you can't actually start studying them until you're working in that area," she said.
"So, I run into the trouble of wanting to be an ED nurse or an ICU nurse, but if I'm not working in that area, I can't do this further study.
"I'd love to see them taking on people that are willing to do the study, not just [those] having done it already."
Graduate calls for more entry-level positions, hospital placements
Rebekah Isaacs moved from Victoria to Perth to study nursing at Edith Cowan University and, like Ms Riley, is struggling to see a path forward in WA.
She said ECU told nursing students at the start of the year that in metropolitan hospitals, the Grad Connect program would have 20 applicants for every new graduate nursing job.
Ms Isaacs is also facing having to extend her time at university due to not being able to do enough nursing placement hours.
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"My graduation will probably be delayed because there's not enough educators in hospitals to take on work experience nurses or student nurses on placement," she said.
Ms Isaacs wants the government to invest more in the training of students so she and other graduates can step up to help address the nursing crisis.
"We've got all these people who want to be nurses, we've got hospitals that are desperate for them. Let's get the training in and let's make it happen," she said.
Ms Isaacs' goal was to work as a mental health nurse, but she believes a lack of opportunity will see students like her move into other areas in the healthcare industry.
"When I moved here to WA my dream was to become a nurse and now I feel like I'm re-assessing my life goals based on survivability," she said.
"Why am I training at university to become a nurse and enter into a field where I'm going to struggle to get work?"
Overseas-trained nurses face roadblocks
Cornelia Lulic trained as a nurse in Switzerland and worked for seven years across a maternity ward, a children's hospital and mental health.
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Now living in Perth with her husband, Mrs Lulic wants to be part of the solution to the state's nursing crisis, however the pathway to becoming qualified in Perth has left her frustrated.
"I would love to get back to nursing — especially at the moment when they are crying out, but it's proven to be very difficult," she said.
Mrs Lulic said she believed there used to be a bridging course for overseas-trained nurses like her in Perth, but it had since ceased and travelling to the eastern states was not an attractive option given the cost and uncertainty surrounding border closures.
Re-enrolling in university to complete a four-year nursing degree was also not attractive given her prior experience.
But she said she would be more than happy to do a six-month course and sit an English language test to demonstrate her competency.
"I understand they need to assess someone and they want to keep up the quality of care," she said.
"It is not a third-world country. Switzerland's got a really good health system and the medical training is really to a very high standard."
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