The story of Sam, a migrant nurse.
I am an overseas nurse who wanted to help the sick and my family. I was attracted too, by the dream of travelling. I borrowed a huge amount of money to help me on my journey and spent many months improving my English before I started work. I was excited.
But all my plans were upset from the day of my arrival. Instead of warmth and kindness I was met with intimidation and bullying. I was often put down in front of patients to make it look as though I did not know my job. When I asked permission to get materials that I needed to practice for OSCE, some managers would not support me and asked me ‘who would pay for it?’ I ended up borrowing materials from my batchmates during practice.
Initially working as a Band 4, while I did know how to do many procedures, the law in the UK is that you don’t do things you are not signed off in a competency to do. I stuck to this rule. It annoyed them and they saw me as lazy and fussy. But this is the law. Whenever I asked for help from a colleague my superior would say, ‘Oh, she’s busy. Can you not do it on your own?’ Often when white staff were not doing much, the superior would choose to make me do what was not urgent, even though I was already busy. When I complained that I needed support, managers would say – if you do not tell us what you need, we can’t help you. But whenever I asked for help they would just say ‘google it’. When I became a registered nurse (RN) I even had to wait for several weeks before I got my dark blue uniform because no one would get me the form. There were times when I was cornered and asked to be silent when they did me wrong or when I witnessed someone else doing something wrong. I thought at first it is done to toughen up new staff. I responded with silence and tried my best to do my job well. I tried to shrug it off because I wanted to fight for my dreams.
We had our first Covid patients in January. At work there was no appropriate infectious control protocol at the beginning. They only had PPE for a few patients. Patients’ COVID diagnosis was categorized in percentages. I felt even if a patient is 10% positive that patient still has COVID. So we have to protect ourselves.
During those days we were scared for our lives, scared that we would not meet our families and friends again. There was one time an overseas nurse was crying and asking for help. There was only one set of goggles in the team. They had to wash the goggles and then pass it to the next nurse to wear. It made me think, we came to the UK to help, but the programme should also protect the health of their workers because we are not just a commodity, we’re humans. Because of fear some workers hoarded masks, especially the FFP3 masks. It was those who were close to the managers and storekeepers. I wasn’t one of those. All I did at that time to survive was to cling on to my faith. Sometimes, I observed people on the floor would go to the storeroom and spend more time doing nothing than helping. They would just leave you behind and do nothing but lip service over the phone or with other colleagues. I just focused on my job and attended to the needs of the patients.
Very quickly I got sick and had to isolate. I had to take care of myself. I was very anxious. The emergency hotline would just say isolate and take paracetamol. I had all the Covid symptoms and after two weeks my back ached, I got easily fatigued and ran out of breath easily. I have underlying conditions and could hear an unusual sound in my chest. I was terrified. I called a mentor who recommended a food supplement to help boost and regulate the immune system. I didn’t want to die in a foreign land, away from my family especially from my grey-haired parents. During those days I could not eat or sleep well. I ended up on stress leave. I couldn’t stop crying. At the time most of the staff who were working were Asian. Because of my medical conditions I asked for shielding, but I did not get it because I was not able to update my health record in the occupational health office because there never seemed to be an available time slot that accommodated my work and OSCE schedule.
When I went back to work after my leave I told them I needed to be trained as an RN to perform efficiently. After the bullying I experienced, I was afraid to commit mistakes. RNs should be supported for 6 months to make sure they are adept and well adjusted, but when I asked for support, the superior would just takeover instead of guiding me to do it myself. To my surprise I was placed on capability, but I did not tell them that I’m not capable. I just wanted to be trained properly, which they should have done before I got my PIN. All this ended up being a test in my ability to work under stress.
There were three managers who were really racist. When my line manager was not around, they would not care if I had eaten or not. They would come to the kitchenette when I was eating lunch and make me return to the ward without proper food and a rest. I would think, I just had twelve patients which I transferred to other wards, and then here comes my break, and you’re going to allocate me another six patients who are really acutely ill. Once, I had four acutely ill patients, with one in a side room and one jittery man out of his senses all with me at the same time. The others had no scenario like mine. It was too much. The number of patients I took in one shift at times was 30, others had just 12 or 18 patients in a shift.
The most painful thing that they did to me was in summer 2020. Two weeks before my capability came to an end, they put side drips in the garbage rather than in the sharps bin and tried to blame it on me. The booklets I filled out for newly admitted patients in the unit suddenly got lost. I had to do the assessments all over again. I focused on my job even if I was suffering deep within me.
The last day of my capability was the worst. My fellow RN whom I asked to prepare a controlled medication as per protocol tried to get me in trouble by preparing a different medication and trying to convince me to place a controlled drug in my pocket which is against hospital protocol. The drug she prepared could have had serious consequences for my patient. When I challenged her she told me I was crazy and delusional, but I stood firm after checking with another nurse. I was terrified that a patient could have been harmed because someone hated me. My decision and prayer that day was to just go home to my home country, because if I choose to stay I would have to suffer more and at worst lose my sanity.
What they have done to me is traumatic. It meant I couldn’t sleep and eat properly and I was suicidal. I felt useless and blamed myself. I lost 20kg in one year in the UK. The hopes and dreams I had were shattered. I am hopeful that in due time I will be able to have better job opportunities in my country and God willing overseas.
Racism is all around the UK. They look at overseas workers as commodities, whom they buy through recruitment from other countries to get to their land to work as their slaves. We are nothing but a disposable commodity, for there are a lot of nurses overseas who want to go the UK. I hope they will one day see we are humans with feelings and families too like them. I think one of the lessons of COVID would be to remind us all how to humble ourselves and to show genuine kind heartedness to our fellow man.
I did this interview because I would like new staff from overseas to have a better experience in their workplace and not to suffer like I did. I would like to believe that every nurse can learn to practice loving kindness. If nurses see each other as a competition how can we work together for the common good of the patient? We migrant nurses, went to the UK not just to grow professionally but to help the sick and be part of creating a nourishing community. Overseas workers have done so much to contribute to the UK especially in the healthcare industry. Despite the traumatic experience, I still have high regard and hopes that the NHS will continue to prosper and spearhead good healthcare practice.
If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please contact one of the organisations below who may be able to support:
Equality for Black Nurses: https://www.equality4blacknurses.com/
Nurses of Colour network: https://www.nursesunited.org.uk/campaigns/nurses-of-colour-network/