Proposed tougher standards for overseas nurses rejected as discriminatory

28 January 2013

The Nursing Council has rejected its proposal that nurses trained in India and the Philippines sit an exam and face tougher English language requirements to nurse in New Zealand.

However, it has spelled out more clearly that overseas trained nurses must hold a qualification equivalent to New Zealand’s three-year nursing degree and has introduced the requirement for two years recent post-registration experience before they can seek New Zealand registration.

In May last year the Nursing Council released a controversial consultation document proposing a separate and tougher registration pathway for RNs coming from countries, such as India and the Philippines, considered not to have a similar education preparation or health care system to New Zealand.

Carolyn Reed, Nursing Council chief executive, said after receiving “quite a fit of feedback” that its proposal was discriminatory, the Council had decided not to pursue the two pathway model. (note: Australian nurses are registered automatically under a mutual recognition agreement).

“Clearly we don’t want to be discriminatory, and we want our standards to be as clear as possible. That’s why we’ve gone with the one standard for everybody. Which is keeping with one standard between New Zealand and internationally qualified nurses.”

That includes stating that the overseas nurse must have completed a programme equivalent to the New Zealand degree programme and at level 7 on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework. Controversy broke out last year after the Council declined to give educational equivalency to graduates of an Indian nursing diploma studying on one-year bridging degree programmes in New Zealand. After negotiations, equivalency was granted by Council if graduates passed an additional clinical assessment.

In the consultation document, the Council had noted that “frequent concerns” were expressed about overseas-trained nurses’ communication skills, despite having met the Council’s English language requirements, and it proposed tightening the test requirements. It also proposed to drop the language test requirement for applicants from countries like the UK, USA, and South Africa. 

Reed said the Council had decided not to make any change to the English language test requirements at present, with all applicants having to meet the current standard. She said the issue would be discussed again once the outcomes of a research project on the topic, being carried out by Professor Lesleyanne Hawthorne for the Australian health professional regulatory authority, were known. 

The consultation document had also proposed a longer and more theory-intensive competence assessment programme (CAP), including an exam, for nurses from countries without similar education or health care systems to New Zealand.

Reed said the Council decided it was not necessary or practical to have an exam. Instead, under the new registration requirements, the Council continues to have the discretion to require an overseas nurse to complete an approved (CAP) course to gain registration.

CAP standards are unchanged at present, but Reed said after considerable consultation feedback on what should be covered in CAP courses, including areas like cultural safety, Maori health, and the medico-legal context of New Zealand practice, the Council was reviewing CAP standards to see whether they needed to be revised.

Reed said the new requirement for two years post-registration nursing experience was supported by the majority of submissions, with a number saying that the overseas nurses struggling the most were those who were inexperienced.