Be a Nurse in Australia: Why It Would Be a Good Choice for Asian Migrants

“I never think about quitting this job one day, even if I would find another job I will still work as part-time.” Says Sally, who comes from China and works for St. George Hospital, Cardiothoracic, Urology & Vascular Department.

Sally With Her Colleagues at Cardiothoracic, Urology & Vascular wards, St. George Hospital
Sally With Her Colleagues at wards: All Rights Reserved by Sally Gu.

Starting at 7 a.m., taking the reigns from the previous shift, going through physical indexes and conditions of assigned patients, arranging medications, assisting doctor’s ward rounds, preparing for patients’ surgery, helping less mobile patients with personal care like cleaning, eating, sitting etc. – those would be a typical routine on morning shift of Sally and Xiaoyin, both of whom are China-born nurses working at Cardiothoracic, Urology & Vascular wards, St. George Hospital.

The shift times are the same in all public hospitals: Morning shift is 7 am to 3:30 pm, afternoon from 1:30 pm to 10 pm, and night starts 9:30 pm to 7 am next morning, except ICU wards and Emergency which set up 12-hour shift.

St. George Hospital
St. George Hospital. From :All Rights Reserved by St. George Hospital.

In St. George Hospital, the wards of Cardiothoracic, Urology & Vascular only, have almost over-half Asian-born nurses. This number depends heavily on the location of the hospital. “We (St. George Hospital) are in close proximity to suburbs with a prominent Asian population: Wolli Creek, Rockdale, and Hurstville, resulting in the high number of Asian background nurses. There are not so many in hospitals near Central.” Said Sally.

Day to day work routines are varied, and full-time nurses do not have the flexibility to choose their shifts – they are able to request a day off or occasionally minor exchange. Though usually they get what they’re given. “So, it would be possible that one may stay up for a night shift than he/she gets another morning shift next day,” Sally added. Generally, night shifts are assigned out of the nurses’ volition, with a mandatory four night shifts per month.

The Best Part & the Worst

For Xiaoyin who has two children under 6, the most beneficial part of nursing job is the flexibility – there is no obligation to be at the office from 9 to 5 every day. Plus having a longer paid vacation (4-6 weeks) allows Xiaoyin to spend more time with her children. For Sally, who does not have children, her favorite aspect of this job is caring and helping people in need and the sense of achievements when she sees the improvement of patients under her care.

However, the workload is known to be a negative aspect.

The current ratio of nurse to patient is average 1:4.5 – 1:5, which sounds reasonable, however simultaneously balancing the needs and requirements for 5 patients is a handful and can be overwhelming. In China, caring for the patient’s daily life would be the work of their families or privately hired care assistants, not the work of nurses, but in Australia, it is the nurses’ responsibility to provide both medical care and daily care – thus why nurses are struggling with the patient to nurse ratio.

Challenges You Might Face: Difficult & Different People

“The hardest part is actually not about skills, nor language, but how to deal with difficult people.” Answered Sally.

Some patients want cooperation rather than simply following nurses’ orders, and negotiating with them is a challenge; sometimes there are family interruptions as well.

Dealing with patients from different cultures, class, and race is another challenge. “I remember once I got a patient speaking Greek and I can only communicate in English, we kept gesticulating,” Xiaoyin said.

In addition, negative moods need to be conquered occasionally, such as sorrow at patients’ deaths (especially died from cardio-issue that fails to be rescued), unfairness when being treated unkindly.

Sally Gu in Her OfficeSally: I think in Australia, people really can take advantages from their medical system. Individuals who don’t want to work or never work, who are unemployed or homeless, and drug users… Those people regularly come to the hospital and everything is free for them – I know I shouldn’t say that but it happens – they can be very mean to us as well, which makes me feel unfair.

5 Reasons Why It is a Good Choice for Migrants

  • Firstly, it’s an occupation that very easy to get PR, “I got my PR just a month after I got myself registered. It’s a really fast process.” Sally said.
  • Nursing is a profession where it is easy to find a job that can become permanent.

Xiaoyin photographed at working breakXiaoyin: I turned to study nursing after I got my masters of accounting here since it’s much easier to find a job as a nurse than an accountant. Nurses are always in demand – public hospitals, private hospitals, and geracomiums – a wide variety of opportunities.

Especially for boys, there are lots of male nurses, particularly in the emergency, operating rooms, ICU wards, and Psychiatric department. “I’ve seen an increasing number of males interning in my ward and there will be more in coming days,” Sally mentioned. In China there is still a very strong occupational gender stereotype which will hopefully shift in coming years.

Sally With Her Colleagues at wards - Half of Them Has Asian Background
Sally With Her Colleagues at wards – Half of Them Has Asian Background: All Rights Reserved.
  • Although working as a full-time nurse is exhausting because of the patient to nurse ratio, long hours and shift times, it is well-paid and very sufficient for making a living above the national standard.
  • To be registered, language is not a significant barrier. It needs 4-seven of IETLS, but OET is also accepted, “B of OET is enough and honestly I think OET is easier. So far, I haven’t heard any of my classmates or other fellow peers fail to be registered after they finish their degree.” Sally added.
  • In Australia, nursing is highly respected. Nurses are often at the top of the annual list of most trustworthy professions, followed by pharmacists or doctors. The position of nurses is highly regarded, which is quite different from that in China.

This occupation does come with ‘potential’ disadvantages. First of all, public hospitals are increasingly unwilling to sign a permanent contract. “I can’t say there is a shortage of nurses because plenty of part-time and intern nurses are working with us, the hospital just won’t hire them permanently, for the employment expenditure is out of budget.” Xiaoyin explained.

Moreover, the space for promotion can be limited for Asian nurses.

Sally Gu in Her OfficeSally: I would say yes and no. ‘Yes’ is because we do have three options for promotion – educator, manager, and nursing specialist. If you have the wish or desire to learn, the hospital will provide you opportunities to do so. I would say no…because effective communication is the most significant requirement for those three jobs. For example, if you want to be a manager of a whole department, it would be quite competitive and a smaller chance for Asian-born nurses to succeed. But they (hospitals) will always offer an opportunity.

For overseas-born nurses, language should not be a great obstacle for adapting to the environment and communicating with collogues and patients, but would be the main obstacle that prevents them pursuing a higher career. Just like a nurse once said to Sally, “if you know something but cannot say it, it’s nothing.”


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Sonia Lei
About Sonia Lei 3 Articles
24, a student of USYD Digital Communication and Culture. Come from north China, still try her best to learn English and learn from the world.

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