Nursing down under: an Irish nurse’s experience

October 2015 Vol 15 (5)

Young Irish nurse GRACE McDONALD shares how and why she chose to get her “fantastic” OE nursing experience here in New Zealand.

SuitcaseIf like me, you enjoy travelling, meeting new people and furthering your nursing career, then I would highly recommend a leap from your comfort zone.

I trained as an RN in Northern Ireland, studied and worked in the United States and Finland, before my first nursing job in a busy ED in England, which was an amazing experience.

But I wanted something more; a new experience, a new lifestyle, and New Zealand had the answer. Many career paths are very transferable in today’s society, none more so than nursing. So many countries are in need of nurses.

As a nurse there are several big countries to choose from, including Canada, Australia and Saudi Arabia. For me none of these was appealing. Saudi nurses are extremely well paid; however, there are lifestyle restrictions and the heat would kill me. And if the heat didn’t kill me in Australia, I thought surely some creature would. I chose New Zealand as it was an English-speaking country, had many links to the United Kingdom, is known worldwide for its beauty and outdoor activities … and has less dangerous wildlife. To me it was, and is, perfect. I suppose you could call what I’m doing an OE but I feel this is a life experience, and perhaps an extended one.

I started the process of moving to New Zealand in February this year and by the end of May I had made the move. It does take time and effort to move country; including applying for visas, saving your pennies, vaccine updates, becoming registered with the Nursing Council of New Zealand and then the dreaded packing up your life.

I applied for multiple jobs prior to arriving, mostly in acute areas as that was my field of expertise. After four weeks I began working in an accident and medical clinic, which was a great experience but I missed the acute setting. Once I had a foot in the door with my first New Zealand nursing job, everything was so much easier. I started to get replies to my job applications and recently moved to a busy emergency department in one of Auckland’s major hospitals.

In my department there is a high number of ex-pats, which makes it easier. They range from nurses like myself who have just arrived to those who moved here 30 years ago. New Zealand is a long way from everywhere else, therefore being able to make friends, make memories, explore the country or just talk about homesickness and the things you miss can be really helpful.

Nurses trained in the UK and New Zealand are very similar in many ways and I haven’t found many differences when it comes to actual nursing. There are also many similarities and differences with regards to healthcare between UK and here. Both are ahead and behind each other in multiple areas. For example, years ago an initiative to protect meal times was introduced in the UK and I read that only six months ago this initiative was brought to New Zealand. But New Zealand medication and preparation appear to be more advanced than the UK. I think as nations we learn from each other, each growing and developing in different stages.

There are some differences I am still getting used to, such as people walking barefoot and why it’s colder inside many houses than outside. I love the outdoorsy spirit of this country and its opportunities to climb a mountain, paddle a canoe to an offshore island or explore glaciers. One thing I am not excited about is a warm Christmas!

Yes, New Zealand is a long way away but it so far has proven a fantastic experience for my career and life. Of course, I miss my family but with Facetime and Skype the world has never felt so small… just remember that time difference! I would strongly recommend having an overseas experience at least once in your life.



Hemaima Hughes: on behalf of Te Kaunihera o Ngā Neehi Māori o Aotearoa (National Council of Māori Nurses), of which Putiputi O’Brien was also patron.

“E te whānau pani, tēnā koutou katoa.

Kua hinga koe ataahua Whaea Putiputi

E te pohutukawa nui,

Takoto mai i runga i te rangimarie o te Karaiti,

Ko koe te kawa whakaruruhau o tātou ākonga me ngā neehi Māori o Aotearoa.

E te pou tokomanawa e kore rawa koe e warewaretia

Takoto i runga i te aroha

Kei te maumahara tonu tō kōrero i o tātou ākonga me ngā neehi Māori o Aotearoa mo te hauora o ngā iwi Māori me ngā tangata katoa.

‘Tomo mai ki te akoranga hauora

whakahokia ki te ao whanui’

Haere atu rā koe i runga tō waka tūpuna o Mataatua.

No reira, e te rangatira whaea, haere, haere, haere atu rā.

Moe mai i tō moengaroa.”

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