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Foreign nurses talk about work during the outbreak

For the past years, Finland has been recruiting international nurses due to the worsening labor shortage in the healthcare sector. According to the latest THL survey, 18000 foreign employees worked in the Social and Healthcare sector, most of them are working in the ward, care unit, and service houses. 

However, foreign nurses in Finland face challenges due to the Finnish language, non-existent qualification training, registration to become a qualified nurse, and the difficulty in entering the job market. In contrast, foreign nurses value that Finland is a safe country to live.

The Coronavirus might have opened opportunities to the international nurses in Finland because the Government has decided earlier In March, that healthcare professionals are Obligated to Work Under the Emergency Act. However, the obligation expired on May 13, 2020, because Finland has successfully minimized the threat of the current outbreak. Nonetheless, the global pandemic did not end, and everyone is expecting a second wave to land in the fall but hoping that it will fade during the summer. Still, in normal circumstances, we will need more foreign nurses. Let's hear what they have to say.

1. Are you working at the moment as a nurse, studying as a nurse retired nurse?

Tess: I am working as a registered nurse. I work in the Geriatric ward. It's for patients over 50 years old.

Luna: I've done all my studies of the degree. Now I am writing my thesis and will graduate this May if it is not postponed due to Coronavirus. 

Nicholas: I work as with Helsinki Kaupunki Kotihoito.

2. Have you heard about the työvelvoite ( work obligation) under the emergency act? What do you think about it?

Tess: Work obligation/työvelvote, at my work we're told about it. Every healthcare provider should show up in their call of duty and provide the necessary care, especially during this crisis.

Luna: Yes, I have heard about it.

Nicholas: I have heard of the work obligation, and I think it's ok in emergency cases or crisis.

3. Do you think that healthcare professionals who do not have good command in the Finnish language can work? What kind of jobs can or should they do?

Tess: At least where I work, we need to know the Finnish language. The nurses need to understand a lot of instructions, and smiling is not enough. It is also for safety reasons because work and patient safety are very precise and vital in healthcare.

Luna: During my training in hospitals, I was told to speak Finnish many times because it was mandatory to work in healthcare service in Finland. I think it's reasonable as our patients are Finns. However, it's not always easy. Finnish is a difficult language, and it depends a lot on how much or how fast one can learn. Some people can learn to speak within a few years, maybe not as native but enough to handle basic workplace conversation. Some may take years to get used to the language. However, the language doesn't have anything to do with skills, knowledge, or intelligence. If the Finnish Government or employers hand more opportunities for foreign workers in healthcare, many of us can perform well in any position.

Nicholas: Well, I would say in healthcare, good command of the language isn't needed. However, the problem lies in reporting, and that's why it's hard to get jobs in major hospitals. Accurate reports are necessary because we are handling someonés health or life. 

4. What do you think of the corona crisis? What worries do you have as a person who has healthcare as a profession?

Tess: It worries me that people do not care. I don't want to work for a dangerous job, so dealing with this pandemic is not easy, and I don't want to get the virus, so I have to be careful.

Luna: I think this pandemic is a challenge to the world in general and Finland in specific. I can see we were not prepared for when it's coming. We didn't take measures into account, so it has been spreading so fast within a month. My worries as a healthcare professional include these aspects:

  • The awareness/attitude of people towards this pandemic. It seems that people still don't realize how severe this virus is. In Finland, people don't wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus from one to another. And they think the death rate is low, especially young people, so they still go out a lot. That's very selfish behavior towards the community, in my opinion. 

  • The lack of staff in hospitals in Finland. If the number of positive cases increases, and we don't have enough staff, nurses and doctors will have a had time to control the situation. 

  • National policy to help healthcare staff. Do we have enough facilities, resources, and people to deal with this pandemic? And is there any policy to protect staff?

Nicholas: Well, the crisis is scary just as any other diseases which can be transmitted easily are harmful. But also I think it been blown out of proportion by media. Now that everyone has access and everyone is giving their thoughts, opinion, and comparing what other countries are doing and not doing as for being in the healthcare sector, my worries are I have come across a lot of qualified health workers. Still, when you see their work ethics, it makes you question how did they end up here.

5. What do you think the Government in Finland and from your country tackle this issue?

Tess:  Finland is doing well, but Europe is doing poorly. The economy is collapsing.

Luna: In my country, we don't have many foreign workers in hospitals, so I don't have any ideas. In Finland, I think the Government should have invested more in the international student group in the nursing field, as they are potential workforce for healthcare. However, I can see that they don't have any plans to help nursing students look for jobs in Finland after graduation. Most of the employers would say "sorry you have to speak fluent Finnish." and don't give further training or suggestions. That discourages foreign nursing students as they shut all the doors just by one reason: language.

Nicholas: Well, as for me, I love my workplace and colleagues. We have a multicultural team, so it makes it nicer. We learn from each other and help each other. I have done gigs in different places and notice that most of them only do their assigned work, and that's all, so teamwork is missing, which is very important, especially in this field.

As for the protection, we have enough so far, and we get daily updates and instructions on how to deal with COVID. We use PPE and such. 

The work has a bit changed since we have to be extra careful about our movement where we go, what we touch, but it's not much if you have been practicing the general hygiene rules laid down for health workers. There are enough restrictions around, but what sucks big time now when you in the field; we don't have places to eat because the restaurants are closed down.

Interviewed by Mae L.

Photo by Tess



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