Kiwi-trained nurse Ruci Saqayalo crossed the Tasman last July. She says the nursing workload and stress are the same but the pay isn’t and she’s not planning to come back.

Ruci Saqayalo is one of the Kiwi nurses who cross the Tasman each year and decide not to come back.

Better pay, a better climate and not being offered a permanent position in her former home town of Wellington all contributed to her and her family moving to Adelaide last year.

Several colleagues from her BN (Pacific) graduating class of 2014 at Whitireia had crossed the Tasman before her and another followed soon after. Whether her colleagues plan to cross back is unknown, but Saqayalo, her husband and 14-year-old son are happy with their decision and are planning to stay.

After finishing her degree in 2014 Saqayalo, 43, accepted an NETP (nursing entry to practice) place at Wellington Hospital based at the emergency department’s short stay unit. After her new graduate year she was unsuccessful in getting a permanent job at the short stay unit and instead was taken on as a permanent member of the hospital’s nursing bureau.

Saqayalo, who is originally from Fiji and moved to Wellington in 2010, made further attempts to get a permanent ward position unsuccessfully.

“I’d been for a few interviews for permanent positions and didn’t get them. And I thought, ‘you know what, it’s just best to go overseas and get some experience in Australia and probably move on’.”

She says being taken on by the bureau worked well for her. “We were sent to any ward in the hospital and I got the experience of working across all the specialties.”

During a recruiting drive by the Australian agency Healthcare Australia, that now employs her, she discovered her varied experience was one of the things that agencies looked for.
Saqayalo had never been to Australia until she made the move last July, so she wasn’t sure where to go and how better off financially they would actually be.

“We thought it might just be hearsay but we also thought we should come over and find out for ourselves and it’s really true.” Working as an agency nurse, her pay is much better and she has found the cost of living in Adelaide “quite cheap”.

Since arriving in July, she has been sent on shifts at the 800-bed Royal Adelaide Hospital and the 300-bed Queen Elizabeth Hospital, along with several private hospitals.

She says the workload is very similar to what she experienced as a bureau nurse at Wellington Hospital and the work environment is no less stressful. But the pay is good and she is getting constant work.

Just recently she was sent to work in Royal Adelaide’s intensive care department, and found herself enjoying an experience that she had never had in Wellington. (She has heard since that the Royal Adelaide wasn’t taking on permanent staff, which may have been why it was employing expensive external agency staff.)

NZ Pacific nurses heading to Australia

Saqayalo is conscious that she and her Pacific classmates are moving to Australia at the same time that New Zealand’s health leaders are talking about wanting to build the Pacific nursing workforce to better meet local health needs.

“We tend to talk about that with my colleagues – and it is a shame,” says Saqayalo.
She says she would have stayed if she’d obtained a job with much better pay. “But I’m getting double what I used to get back in Wellington, to tell the truth.”

A colleague who has just followed – also Fijian – has left behind in New Zealand her grown-up children to come over with her husband to take up a lucrative ‘rural and remote’ contract in Queensland.

Other classmates who crossed the Tasman before her were from other Pacific backgrounds, including Samoa and the Cook Islands.

Saqayalo says it was not only the pay that attracted her Pacific colleagues across the Tasman: being on a one-year NETP programme contract meant they didn’t get the security of a permanent position on completing their new graduate year.

So is she ever planning to come back? “No, I’m not coming back, sorry,” she laughs. “But I will probably come back to visit.”

At the moment she is still enjoying agency work – both the pay and working in a variety of hospitals and specialities.

Where her career goes from here, she is not sure. “Nursing can take us anywhere; the flexibility – it is just great.”

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