Published in Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand 1410.10 (Oct 2008): p23(1).

Identifying barriers, opportunities and strategies to integrate and develop a diverse health workforce was the aim of a workshop at the recent Diversity Forum in Auckland.

“Capitalising on a diverse health workforce” was hosted by the Centre for Asian and Migrant Health Research at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and opened by dean of the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences at AUT’s North Shore campus, Max Abbott. He recounted how pivotal overseas health professionals were to his recovery during a recent hospital stay.

Nurse consultant-recruitment at North Shore Hospital, Waitemata District Health Board (DHB), Carat Frankson, identified some bottlenecks to the registration of overseas nurses, in particular passing the International English Language Testing System (IETLS) exam, getting a job offer and finding employment opportunities for spouses. Other bottlenecks included organising passports and visas, selling and buying houses, finding schools, living costs, climate, separation from family, loss of familiar surroundings, religious practices, cultural backgrounds and the financial costs of moving from one country to another. Strategies the DHB provided in order to embrace a diverse nursing workforce included:

  • coaching, support, mentorship and supervision in the work environment;
  • introduction to the New Zealand cultural context and context of nursing at the DHB;
  • education in the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi; and
  • education in the values of the Waitemata DHB: integrity, compassion, openness, respect and customer focus.

The process could be mutually beneficial, Frankson said. “It is our responsibility to introduce and support new recruits into the New Zealand way of life, offering them cultural support. Incorporating and including immigrants into our communities is a responsibility we all share.” White these health professionals benefitted our workforce, they could also benefit other areas of society, eg schools, Libraries, universities, community centres, religious centres and the legal system, she said.

Auckland DHB clinical nurse educator, Roanne Crane’s presentation on integrating overseas-trained health professionals into the DHB identified some of the issues facing overseas registered nurses, such as Language, manoeuvring through the New Zealand registration process, socialisation, cultural differences, unprincipled agents and assumptions/racism.

Reducing health inequalities

Workforce development consultant at Counties Manukau DHB, Elizabeth Ryan, discussed the increasing demand for health services. The population was ageing, with the number of people over 65 projected to more than double between 2001 to 2021; a third of deaths occurring everyday in Counties Manukau were from potentially preventable conditions; and workforce demand would outstrip supply, with shortages nationally of up to 40 percent predicted by 2021, including in South Auckland. Having an ethnically diverse workforce was a key strategy in reducing inequalities in health, she said. The workforce needed to reflect the community being served in order to deliver quality health services in a culturally-appropriate manner. Ethnic matching was associated with greater patient satisfaction and better patient-reported outcomes.

She highlighted initiatives such as increasing the number of high school students studying health courses, with an emphasis on Maori and Pacific students, increasing numbers pursuing health at mid-career level, especially males/ Maori and Pacific people, collecting accurate demographic data, developing an affirmative action policy and the pilot programme which wilt see around 50 Pacific-Island trained nurses gain registration in New Zealand annually over the next three years.

Meeting the challenge of institutionalised racism was tackled by Auckland University researcher Nicola North. Of note was the complex and subtle set of skills that international medical graduates (IMGs) and international registered nurses(IRNs) needed to acquire, eg understanding cultural differences, familiarity with the culture of the new community of practice, fluency with the nuances of professional communication, and understanding the behaviour and values expected. To meet the challenge, North suggested several factors needed to be addressed: self-reflection as a society, a focus on immigration and settlement structures and processes, even-handed behaviour from registration councils, finding employment, smoothing the process of joining the new practice community and, lastly, getting real. “We need to acknowledge we need IMGs and IRNs more than they need us,” she said.

In the final part of the workshop, the group considered the question: What would a health system that capitalised on its diversity look like? Answers included:

  • recognising skills and supporting people financially;
  • ensuring the health workforce reflects the population demographics;
  • passing on success stories to the media;
  • rewarding and acknowledging cultural competence;
  • fostering diversity at all levels, including around decision-making, to develop new ideas and treatments;
  • consolidating, streamlining and integrating information systems to free up funding for initiatives;
  • growing the inter-cultural communication capacity of the entire workforce, eg educating people about how to deriver bad news to patients;
  • including diversity at art education levels;
  • focusing on areas of under-representation and targeting them specifically; and
  • ensuring support mechanisms are developed to take into account cultural differences, eg around employee disputes.

New York author Margaret Visser argues that change and diversity are necessary to human growth and evolution: “Machines like, demand, and produce uniformity. But nature loathes it: her strength lies in multiplicity and in differences. Sameness, in biology, means fewer possibilities and, therefore, weaknesses.” (1)

Reference

(1) Visser, M. (1999) Much depends on dinner:. The extraordinary history and mythology, allure and obsessions, perils and taboos, of an ordinary meal. New York: Grove Press.

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