Celebrating NHS Overseas Workers Day: Sifiso's Story

Sifiso Nare shares her story and celebrates the resilience and dedication of international nurses

Today (Friday 4 March) we’re marking NHS Overseas Workers Day to celebrate the invaluable contributions made every day by our international colleagues.

Learning from each other can only improve the care we provide to our diverse communities, and it is vital that we continue to make the most of this opportunity.

Sifiso has kindly agreed to share her story and the journey that led her to join the NHS.


Sifiso Nare is a Care Coordinator within our Community Rehabilitation Enhanced Support Team (CREST).

I am from Zimbabwe, which is in Southern Africa and a former colony of Britain.

Growing up, nursing was not a field I thought I would embark on for a variety of reasons however I feel I’m able to give a comparison of the profession both here and in Zimbabwe.

At home, nursing is usually not a career that is pursued by many for a lot of reasons, including the fact that it is viewed as a labour intensive profession. It is usually a female dominated profession as culturally women are perceived as empathetic and befitting to be in a profession that requires caring, empathy and compassion. Also, the Zimbabwe nurse training encompasses all the fields and to be called a nurse, one would be competent in general, mental health, learning disability, children nursing, and midwifery as opposed to the United Kingdom where there are specialist fields. My view is that both systems have their pros and cons but at times I don’t feel confident to just call myself a nurse without adding my specialism as I feel undeserving to own the full nurse title knowing that I only specialised in one field.

My first experience of working in the NHS was when I was a student nurse in the south of England. Doing the training not long after I arrived came with a few culture shocks as I needed to assimilate and integrate into British society and culture. One positive experience I had as a student nurse was making friends with a Caucasian lady who had a warm personality and what I would call a heart of gold. She gave me faith not only in humanity but that there were some nice welcoming people in my newly adopted country.

It has been quite a journey for me, from the start of training to my current role within the NHS. Having trained and worked in the United Kingdom has meant going through a lot of hurdles some more difficult to surmount than others but the challenges of a global pandemic were at a different level. Humankind found itself battling a pandemic with endless lockdowns and the closing of borders across the globe. For us the frontline staff, it was a time to gear ourselves for duty more than ever before as it was a time when our services were needed the most.

We lost colleagues and loved ones. Heard and saw stories of how people were succumbing to the virus across the globe. The lockdowns and the closed borders meant that people both here and back home had to have funerals that were not in accordance with our cultural norms as travelling was restricted. We were left with a lot of uncertainty as the literature that was flying around said people from ethnic minorities were more likely to be affected by Covid or die from it, but I don’t think redeployment of all staff that belong to ethnic minorities to less risky environments was a viable option as services would have been stretched and the impact of the pandemic would have been even more. It is for reasons like these that I feel we all need to celebrate International Nurses’ Day as it is somehow a symbiotic relationship.

The scale of the pandemic impacted negatively on our wellbeing. For me the most disturbing scenes were those in India and Brazil and one wonders how humanity is supposed to just carry on without some form of closure to the affected. Their scars, our scars might not be visible to the naked eye, but the psychological scars might take a lifetime to heal. The one positive thing that emerged from the pandemic is that there were some unifying moments, it brought moments of reflection and it was a time for us to realise that despite our differences human life is valuable. I want to believe that for some of us, the way we were brought up played a massive role in making us pull through as we are brought up to be resilient and taught that life ends when it ends and not because of challenges or problems.

Nursing training in my birth country and most other countries is quite intense and some of the challenges that immigrant nurses encounter is that there is no accreditation or recognition of their prior experience. Most of them need to do a language test or undertake further training before they can practice and most employers start them at entry level, which is the lowest point of Band 5 or even lower in the independent sector.

International nurses also face cultural challenges related to language, beliefs, and at times the care approach. At times they face discrimination not only from colleagues but at times patients would not accept being cared for by an immigrant nurse, or their families would question their competencies and show a lack of confidence in them. Some services within the NHS are Caucasian dominated and it can be hard for someone from an ethnic minority background to be recruited into those teams or for their contributions to be valued.

On a positive note, it is humbling that the NHS has such a diverse workforce and that the ethnic minorities are human resourcing the wonderful idea, founded on the 5th of July 1948, which is the NHS. I hope we would have more programmes or foundations that would honour and celebrate the work of international nurses such as the Mary Seacole one as they are doing a wonderful job. Also, I hope the workforce and management would one day be representative of the societies and teams they serve as currently it feels like there is an imbalance in some sectors especially in the most crucial roles or as you go up the ladder.

Despite all the challenges faced by immigrant nurses, I feel there is a need to embrace the profession and value and celebrate our roles as NHS workers as we continue to provide a service to the British society. Let’s celebrate our international nurses who embody resilience, dedication and above all a will to overcome the many challenges that they encounter on a shift by shift, day by day or year by year basis and still rise above those challenges to be part of a dedicated workforce that keeps the National Health Service on its feet.