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Nursing Jobs Abroad

The Demand for Nurses Internationally

Working as a nurse in Saudi Arabia
Caroline visiting the old Saud settlement of Diriyah in her free time.

In college, I dreamed of having an international career. Several years after my sister ventured off to foreign lands to teach English, I pursued the same route — not as an English teacher but as a nurse. Now it's my sister who is visiting me in a foreign land!

Since the skills and knowledge that U.S.-educated nurses possess are highly regarded internationally, the profession can open doors to a wide array of possibilities for working abroad. The call for nurses is a cry heard from all corners of the globe, from developed nations to the developing world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "Nurses are the largest category of health workers. Nursing personnel make up over 50 percent of the health workforce in every country of the world. In many countries in the developing world, more than 80 percent of health workers are nurses.” According to the WHO, there is a shortage of millions of healthcare workers of all kinds, and the demand is projected to double in the next generation. The vast majority of nursing schools are in the U.S. and other Western countries, so there will be a dire need for at least 13 million trained nurses abroad to provide healthcare (with the increase, in some countries, partly due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic).

Because of a global nursing shortage and a higher demand for nursing services, healthcare organizations are faced with staffing dilemmas that are reaching crisis levels in certain places. Sigma Theta Tau International, the Honor Society of Nursing, a great resource that offers a job board, reports, "countries around the world are facing critical nursing shortages. From North America to Africa and Europe, communities are challenged with growing health care needs and diminishing numbers of nurses.”

Faced with the spiraling labor shortages, healthcare organizations worldwide are scrambling to recruit nurses to fill positions through enticing advertisements in top nursing journals and on nursing websites. Just as the range of opportunities varies from place to place, so do salaries.

The most lucrative packages tend to be offered in Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In some countries benefits may outweigh salary. The seven weeks annual leave offered by many hospitals in England means the chance to travel and may be more important than salary in determining the most desirable job.

How to Land International Nursing Jobs

The decision to work abroad as a nurse requires intense consideration. While motivation is essential, the more informed you are, the more rewarding your experience will likely to be.

A review of your reasons for wanting to work abroad will help you narrow your focus and assist determine which nursing job will meet your objectives. Here are some other considerations to consider when pursuing an overseas nursing job.

• Your Nursing Experience

You will likely receive an offere for a job based on your previous career history. Later, once you are working in an organization for while, you can expand your nursing skills and knowledge by pursuing another type of nursing job. Maria Eis, a Canadian nurse who has worked in the U.S. and most, recently, in Saudi Arabia, was hired to work on a renal transplant unit in a Riyadh hospital. She soon landed a job as a private-duty nurse providing care to a member of the Saudi royal family at home and even traveling with the family abroad.

• Your Knowledge of the Language

Communication plays a vital role in the provision of healthcare. In order to effectively care for patients and practice safely, you should acquire a basic knowledge of the language of the country where you will be working.

As native speakers of English, American nurses may restrict their search for jobs in countries where English is the primary language. However, please do not rule out other locations where healthcare organizations may use English as their official language. Certain hospitals in the Middle East require that the staff speak English, and all documentation is in English.

Basic knowledge of the country's language is helpful when providing care to non-English speaking patients and interacting with local staff. At least learn conversational expressions and a list of standard medical terms. While the hospital may offer language classes and provide translators to aid communication, you should understand the language before and during your time overseas to fully appreciate the experience personally and professionally.

Also, remember that while many speak English in other countries, terminology may vary. For example, in the U.K., head nurses are referred to as “sisters,” the operating room is called “the theater,” and the emergency room is known as “the accident and casualty department.”

• Using Healthcare Recruiters

Intermediaries, generally known as healthcare recruiters, specialize in recruiting healthcare professionals on behalf of employers. Healthcare recruiters advertise in nursing journals and on the Web. Recruiters can assist you with all the details that will enable you to work abroad as a nurse, as well as advice regarding banking, housing, and other important issues in preparation for your move overseas.

You can also answer advertisements and approach potential employers directly once you have obtained the necessary documentation regarding nursing registration from the country where you would like to work (see Nursing Registration below). While recruiters play a vital part in certain situations, such as finding jobs in developing nations or major cities, remember that many healthcare facilities in smaller locations outside metropolitan areas may only sometimes utilize their services.

Whatever route you take in your job search, doing homework is the best policy.

• Registration

You will need an appropriate work visa for the country where you plan to work. In most cases, visas are obtained for nurses by the hiring organization. The issuance of such work permits can take days to months, depending on the country, so plan to wait in some cases.

Nurses also must provide proof of licensure to practice their profession.

Where you are planning to work will determine whether you will need to register your nursing qualifications before being able to look for a job.

In countries where a system of nurse registration is not yet established, you will need to provide proof of your nursing licensure from the U.S. To practice nursing in the U.K., for example, an overseas nurse must apply to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) for a British nursing license (see below). Depending on the licensing board, from the initial request to the final outcome, the process may take weeks to several months.

In countries where a system of nurse registration has not yet been established you will need to provide proof of your nursing licensure from the U.S. The healthcare facilities in these countries will honor your nursing license from the issuing state, so it is imperative to maintain your American nursing registration. The code of professional conduct you follow in the state where you are licensed must continue while working overseas.

If you want to work abroad as a nurse, there is no better time than now. You can easily achieve your own international career goals with thorough research, an open mind, and a sense of adventure.

For More Info

The World Health Organization describes the huge (out of the total of over million of healthcare workers of all genders) lack of nurses worldwide in their extensive reports. As the organization notes, "There is a global shortage of health workers, in particular nurses and midwives, who represent more than 50% of the current shortage in health workers."

All Nursing Schools provides some additonal good overviews on the opportunities and practical life of a nurse seeking to work abroad.

Nurse Journal also has a article on the steps necessary to nurse internationally.

Sigma Theta Tau International, the Honor Society of Nursing is an excellent resource with a job board for members.

International Nurse is a great resource if you decide to study the specialty.

Volunteer as a nurse abroad provides information and programs where you can be helpful to others. You can determine, as a volunteer, whether the field is appropriate for you as a long-term job or career.

International Registered Nursing Job Boards are available for travel nurses.

Nursing Licensing Boards for Selected Countries

Australian Nursing Council

Nursing Council of New Zealand

Irish Nursing Board

Nursing and Midwifery Council in the U.K.

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International Jobs

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