Should I Stay or Should I Go? An Overseas Nurse from Germany Shares Her Thoughts
15 November 2021 | Sabine Torgler
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
I asked myself this question in 2002, whether I should move from Germany to the UK and start a new life as a Registered Nurse (RN) in this country. In 2003 my answer was YES! And I don’t regret this life decision at all.
My whole nursing career changed when I arrived in the UK. It was an eye-opener for me to see how wide and broad the nursing profession is here.
In my view, nursing in my home country is years behind British nursing culture. I came from a country that in 2003 didn’t have a NMC (and still doesn’t), no RCN, no nationwide academic pathways. German nurses follow the direction of the medical staff, which is unthinkable in the UK.
To get my head around the differences when I arrived in October 2003 was a challenge. Because of my background coming from a very different nursing culture, entering for me ‘sci-fi’ nursing was at the beginning quite challenging. For the Brits of course it was normal. I had to learn new skills, I had to get to know how the NHS functions (who is who, where are they and where is that exactly?) I had to learn to be autonomous and work independently.
The individual accountability in British nursing was also something that scared me at the beginning. Wow, I thought, if I make a mistake I might end up in the Tower of London (or in front of the NMC). But thank goodness, that never happened, because the British nurses helped me tremendously.
I knew that I was a burden to them in the beginning – of course I was. I had to learn their way of nursing, their way of thinking and last but not least, their way of speaking. To be able to speak professional / clinical English took time. If one cannot speak clearly in nursing, you cannot nurse on a professional level.
Before I moved to the UK, I prepared myself with some English books. But when I arrived and I started my first shifts – in Bath – I thought I was on a different planet. I thought my English was okay, but actually it was semi-okay. Retrospectively I still laugh about the biggest language mistake I made. I will give you the summary of this scenario dear readers:
The Matron rang me in my second shift to let me know that the Sisters’ meeting was delayed. Becky was my ward sister at that time. I had just learned the colloquial English: Please hang on a sec, I just want to repeat your message. So, I used my new sentence and repeated to Matron that Becky’s sister will meet her later.
At the other end of the line – silence. The Matron took a minute to digest my words and then came back with a deep and long: Nooooo!
She then took some time to explain her message. At the end of that call, we both were happy. I guess Matron realised I was an overseas nurse because of my accent, and that was the reason I got the message wrong. I think her thought process was, take time for me and sort the misunderstanding out.
Throughout my 18 years I have worked for the NHS in various specialities and also did some shifts in forensic nursing. I worked through an agency in two prisons as a prison nurse. To work in this kind of environment was very interesting and I learned a lot. I also go some experience as a school nurse, which was great.
I think, if I had stayed in Germany, I would never have been so curious to enter these different fields in nursing. The UK gave and still gives me these colourful fields of work. There is never a dull moment.
To work in the UK as a RN broadened my horizons tremendously. I can proudly say that I work in one of the most progressive nursing cultures in the world and this feels really good. Even after all these years!
Building a Community
In 2010 I founded an international nurses’ network, for nurses like myself. We are called English for Nurses. We teach clinical English to other international nurses, midwives, doctors and other healthcare professionals. We teach in the UK and on the continent. To teach nursing in English is really exciting. I combine my clinical work and my theoretical work in one network.
The UK gave me the chance of a life-long-learning process; this country showed me that nursing is a profession and how important we nurses are, not only during a pandemic.
If you want to embrace this enormous opportunity, then do it. If you want to learn new skills, you will surely be successful in this chapter of your life.
It is not easy, but once you put hard work in, you will succeed! British colleagues will help you as they will see you as a valued member of their team. Show them you can do it and you will have a great time here in Britain.
Sabine works at Bristol University Hospital. She also teaches clinical English to other international healthcare staff. She runs a free monthly get together for international healthcare staff and encourages you to get in touch.