Nurse education: Adapting to education Kiwi-style

February 2016 Vol 16 (1)

Challenges faced by India-trained nurse educator Reen Skaria prompted her to ask fellow overseas-trained nurse educators about their experiences of teaching in New Zealand. She shared her research findings, and some of her respondents' frank reflections, at last year’s Australasian Nurse Educators Conference (ANEC). Nursing Review reports.

Reen Skaria iconStepping in front of their first classes of Kiwi nursing students can be an overwhelming experience for overseas-trained educators, a researcher has found.

Dealing with big classes, students laughing at their accents, and having to learn on their feet about cultural safety were just some of the challenges shared with Reen Skaria during her doctoral research into the experiences of overseas-trained nurse educators.

Skaria, a nurse educator at the Southern Institute of Technology’s nursing school, gained her master’s degree in nursing in India and told ANEC the challenges she faced as an overseas-trained nurse educator prompted her to interview 17 colleagues about their experiences teaching in nursing schools up and down the country.

The overseas-trained educators she interviewed came from the United Kingdom to Asia and the Pacific to the USA but Skaria says common themes emerged that could help to influence  policies and practices to support overseas nurse educators in their roles, particularly as the push to train more nurses means New Zealand needs to recruit overseas-trained educators to bolster the local nurse education workforce.

Skaria says most of the educators had worked as nurses in New Zealand prior to starting teaching but that still hadn’t prepared them for working as a nurse educator in New Zealand.

Challenges they described included differences in classroom ‘codes of conduct’, competency-based assessment, high numbers of mature students, cultural safety, long hours and being ‘thrown in the deep end’ with little orientation. Sometimes these challenges were combined with homesickness and the result was many found their new teaching jobs initially very stressful.

“My job in UK was highly stressful but I rarely went home and cried and took a glass of wine. I did that a lot here though,” one participant told Skaria. Another talked of spending the first month sitting in the garden after work with their head in their hands, crying.

Skaria said some nurse educators spoke of being unused to the big classes that can happen in New Zealand. “I was scared to stand in front of 90 students and teach,” said one participant. “I was not expecting that. My first lecture was on a Tuesday in May. It was a cold day but when I came out from the first session I was sweating.”

Speaking in front of a class with a strong non-Kiwi accent was another worry for many participants. “In the beginning it was awful and very difficult. I think people can immediately pick up my accent,” said one. Another said students sometimes laughed at them and one, even more worryingly, told Skaria that their most difficult experience was being accepted by the other lecturers.

Cultural uncertainty

Teaching in a new culture was generally an issue, with Skaria reporting many overseas educators were “terribly worried” that they might offend their colleagues or students. She said most participants were familiar with working and living in multicultural societies but were new to biculturalism. “Most OE educators embraced biculturalism and they thought it was something to be celebrated and really unique to
New Zealand.” But working in a bicultural education system was a learning experience; some said it was one of the hardest changes they had had to come to terms with including some expressing initial shock at having karakia and pōwhiri at their nursing schools.

Skaria said discussions about cultural safety also prompted some “beautiful stories” about educators’ own cultural safety learning journeys. One spoke of learning that the head was tapu by the shocked response by a colleague to her suggestion of putting an IV line into a vein on the head of a very sick baby. Another spoke of a classroom of students gasping simultaneously when the educator touched the greenstone around a student’s neck while teaching about the anatomy of the neck. 

Advice for new overseas-trained educators

Participants said it could take up to three years to culturally adapt to New Zealand but Skaria said most had, and were happy to now call
New Zealand home. When asked for advice they would share with other overseas-trained nurse educators coming to New Zealand, they said not to be shy and to be proactive in accepting people’s dinner invitations or offers of friendship because, if they hesitate, the offers might not be repeated. She also said to research the job first, be ready to be adaptable, try not to make comparisons, and to avoid saying “back home we used to do this”. “As, remember,” she says, “you aren’t back home, you are in New Zealand now.”

Skaria is working on finishing her doctoral thesis and hopes the results will lead to a greater understanding of the feelings and experiences of overseas nurse educators and perhaps help to inform policies and practices to improve those experiences.

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