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Open Access Research article

The transitioning experiences of internationally-educated nurses into a Canadian health care system: A focused ethnography

Gina MA Higginbottom

Author Affiliations

Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

BMC Nursing 2011, 10:14  doi:10.1186/1472-6955-10-14

Published: 21 June 2011

Abstract

Background

Beyond well-documented credentialing issues, internationally-educated nurses (IENs) may need considerable support in transitioning into new social and health care environments. This study was undertaken to gain an understanding of transitioning experiences of IENs upon relocation to Canada, while creating policy and practice recommendations applicable globally for improving the quality of transitioning and the retention of IENs.

Methods

A focused ethnography of newly-recruited IENs was conducted, using individual semi-structured interviews at both one-to-three months (Phase 1) and nine-to-twelve months post-relocation (Phase 2). A purposive sample of IENs was recruited during their orientation at a local college, to a health authority within western Canada which had recruited them for employment throughout the region. The interviews were recorded and transcribed, and data was managed using qualitative analytical software. Data analysis was informed by Roper and Shapira's framework for focused ethnography.

Results

Twenty three IENs consented to participate in 31 interviews. All IENs which indicated interest during their orientation sessions consented to the interviews, yet 14 did not complete the Phase 2 interview due to reorganization of health services and relocation. The ethno-culturally diverse group had an average age of 36.4 years, were primarily educated to first degree level or higher, and were largely (under) employed as "Graduate Nurses". Many IENs reported negative experiences related to their work contract and overall support upon arrival. There were striking differences in nursing practice and some experiences of perceived discrimination. The primary area of discontentment was the apparent communication breakdown at the recruitment stage with subsequent discrepancy in expected professional role and financial reimbursement.

Conclusions

Explicit and clear communication is needed between employers and recruitment agencies to avoid employment contract misunderstandings and to enable clear interpretation of the credentialing processes. Pre-arrival orientation of IENs including health care communications should be encouraged and supported by the recruiting institution. Moreover, employers should provide more structured and comprehensive workplace orientation to IENs with consistent preceptorship. Similar to findings of many other studies, diversity should be valued and incorporated into the professional culture by nurse managers.