A world of experience
Ashley Oh, Markus Ward nurse
With more than 27 million qualified nurses around the world, there is a wealth of experience that The Royal Marsden can draw on to support our patients’ care.
In 2017, the Trust set up a team to develop an international nurse recruitment and retention programme to address the high rate of nursing vacancies, diversify the skills and experience of our workforce, and ensure that the nurses we employ remain with us. Having this dedicated team also means that ward managers avoid being tied up with recruitment, so they can focus on making sure our patients receive the best care.
Led by a senior nurse, the team interviews and undertakes onboarding for applicants from countries all over the world, including the Philippines, India, South Korea and Lebanon. In addition, they support international staff who are already working at the Trust as healthcare assistants to become UK-qualified, and take up nursing positions in the hospital.
“Our international nurses help to give us what we need to serve our diverse group of patients,” explains Helen Lavall (pictured bottom left), Nurse Recruitment and Retention Lead. “They are not newly qualified; these nurses come with so much experience and a set of skills we really require.”
The international programme also provides vital pastoral and professional support by welcoming international recruits to the UK and to The Royal Marsden, and setting them up for a successful career.
“Moving to a new country can be daunting, so we have designed a bespoke welcome service to ensure any international nurses joining The Royal Marsden feel welcomed, valued and supported,” Helen says.
As well as practical advice on setting up life in the UK – such as opening a bank account and registering with a GP – the team also meets new arrivals at their accommodation with a welcome package of essential items and a comprehensive induction programme. The Trust assists with accommodation, covering the first month’s rent and providing a salary advance to help with the security deposit. We also help connect new arrivals to the previous cohort, creating a ‘cohesive support network’ for all international staff.
International nurses must complete an objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) – a practical assessment that they must pass before they can register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council – within eight months of arrival. So, at The Royal Marsden, they embark on a programme of study days to give them the best chance of passing at the first opportunity.
Mohamad Ibrahim (pictured below) moved to the UK from Lebanon in January 2021. His interest in oncology and his personal experience of family members having cancer meant that for him, “there was no better option than The Royal Marsden”.
Mohamad has brought invaluable experience and skills that help him to care for international and British patients alike. “I can see the happiness and relief on some patients’ faces when I speak in Arabic,” he says. “They are already going through a challenging time, so someone speaking in their language can be very comforting.”
Back in Beirut, Mohamad worked in public health, screening Syrian children who had fled to Lebanon as refugees. “This taught me a lot about working with vulnerable people and building connections with them,” he says.
Although he was given extensive support from Helen and the team, adjusting to his new life hasn’t always been easy for Mohamad. Four days after he arrived, the COVID-19 lockdown began. “I came out of quarantine to a city in lockdown,” he recalls. “It was really challenging to adapt to this strange new reality while trying to find a flat and meet people.”
Despite this, Mohamad has made friends through the programme, received training and even been promoted to Senior Nurse. “It wouldn’t have been possible without help from the support and clinical teams,” he says.
Chances to learn
Ashley Oh moved to the UK from South Korea with her husband in March 2020 and joined The Royal Marsden in February 2021, starting as a healthcare assistant before completing the OSCE in August and becoming a registered nurse on Markus Ward.
“The Trust provided lots of support, assigning a group of colleagues to study and practise with, and an educator who provided reading materials and directed our learning,” she says.
Nursing in the UK is quite unlike in her home country, according to Ashley. “In Korea, I had to take care of 12 patients on my own,” she says. “We don’t focus on patients washing and eating; mostly their families come in and help them. Here, I get to focus more on daily living activities. It’s a good chance to learn and these activities help us bond more with the patients.”
Both Ashley and Mohamad see their careers developing further at the Trust. “I definitely want to stay at The Royal Marsden,” Ashley says. “In the next year or two, I’ll enrol at the school to do a master’s and broaden my knowledge about patients and cancer.”
Meanwhile, Mohamad is considering whether to pursue a clinical career path or continue learning management skills. “There are so many opportunities at The Royal Marsden,” he says. “I have no doubt that whatever route I take will be here.”