A Massey University study released today has revealed dozens of cases of patients refusing care from migrant nurses and cultural barriers between staff putting patients at risk.
The research, led by associate professor Margaret Brunton, involved 53 face-to-face interviews and a nationwide online survey released to seven of the 20 district health boards.
Brunton said she was surprised by the extent of cultural barriers that emerged within the study and felt it prompted further discussion.
The Herald spoke to two migrant nurses, who cannot be identified, about the racial abuse they had faced.
An Auckland senior nurse who has worked in the country for over 10 years said she was once called a “f**ken Asian b****” by a 12-year-old patient.
“I think the one that sticks out the most was when a patient told me they wanted a ‘white nurse’.”
She said some people don’t realise just how much hurt those types of comments can cause.
“I had to walk out, but there’s nothing I can do when it happens; I just have to take the abuse and carry on with my work.”
An Indian nurse practitioner working in Palmerston North said cultural tensions she had experienced came not only from patients but also from fellow staff.
“A nurse I worked with once put a sign up in the ward saying ‘Kiwi nurses only’ after a male patient made it clear he didn’t want Indians looking after him,” she said.
Despite having worked in the country for eight years, gaining her master’s degree in health care and becoming a highly qualified nurse practitioner, racism continues to haunt her.
“It doesn’t matter how qualified I am or that I’ve passed my English-speaking exam, there’s a barrier.”
Brunton said it was not surprising, in the high-pressure and under-resourced environment that nurses work in, that cultural differences can lead to negative feelings.
“We are often told that exposure to different cultures leads to acceptance, but that requires the time and space to explore differences. That’s not possible for most nurses so the differences more commonly cause frustration, which impedes effective patient care.”
She said this was the first research of its kind so it was hard to compare if it was getting worse but with the increase of migrant nurses she imagined it was.
“Around one-quarter of registered nurses in New Zealand have qualified overseas and both New Zealand and internationally qualified nurses need to adapt to the changes this brings,” Brunton said.
Brunton said New Zealand nurses who responded to the survey recognised the clinical expertise of their foreign counterparts; they wanted their colleagues to be able to speak up and advocate for patient wellbeing, rather than being merely task-focused.
But she said migrant nurses reported unrelenting scrutiny of their practice.
“One migrant nurse described his workplace as being ‘like having a dinner with your in-laws – everything that you do will be judged’.
“He felt he had to be cautious about everything he said,” Brunton said.
She said 93 per cent of participants in the survey reported that they had sought help at work for understanding cultural differences in practice.
“We know they are asking for help … more needs to be done.”