Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Nurse. Come quick. It’s an emergency! Australia needs you

Australian health boards are coming to Ireland to recruit Irish nurses, with the promise of better pay and prospects – and that famous Australian lifestyle, writes CIARA KENNY

Fri, Nov 30, 2012, 09:00


Australian health boards are coming to Ireland to recruit Irish nurses, with the promise of better pay and prospects – and that famous Australian lifestyle, writes CIARA KENNY 

An intensive care nurse working at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Uprooting from her home in Kildare and moving to Australia at 37 years of age with two young daughters was not how Michelle Roche saw her life panning out when she entered nursing, a career then associated with long-term stability and steady career progression.

Roche currently holds a permanent job as a psychiatric nurse with the Health Service Executive, but with recent cuts to pay and allowances, the introduction of the universal social charge, reduced overtime, and a recruitment embargo in the HSE that prevents promotion up the pay scale, she says her family are “barely able to pay the bills” any more.

“There is no opportunity for promotion, no incentive to work harder, no funding for courses, or opportunities to further your career here in any way,” she says. “I was an acting clinical nurse manager for a while with all the added responsibility for very little money. It was very disheartening to know there was no chance of being made permanent in that post.”

The Australian healthcare system is currently experiencing a critical shortage of nurses and midwives, especially in the areas of psychiatric care and midwifery. To fill the gap, health boards are increasingly looking overseas, with a preference for Irish-trained nurses. Two representatives from New South Wales Health will arrive in Ireland next week to recruit for 70 nursing and midwifery vacancies, and Roche has decided to apply.

Three young nurses Roche worked with are already “living the dream” in Lakeview near Belmont in New South Wales (NSW), reporting back on the great working conditions, training opportunities and better salaries on offer.

Shortage of healthcare workers

Health Workforce Australia, an advisory authority to the Australian government, has predicted a shortfall of more than 110,000 nurses across the country in the next 12 years.

NSW Health is experiencing the biggest current crisis in staffing, with more than 800 nursing and midwifery vacancies currently advertised on its website ( Nurses with specialist training and experience in intensive care, emergency, obstetrics, midwifery, operating suite and mental health are in particularly high demand, in both city hospitals and rural community-care centres.

According to figures from the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, more than 700 Irish nurses have been sponsored by healthcare employers for 457-visas since 2007, with thousands more employed as permanent Australian residents, or on short-term contracts while travelling on working holiday visas. Ireland ranks fifth in terms of the number of foreign nurses employed by nationality.

“They love Irish nurses, because of the high standard of training, and because they are English speaking,” says former senator Margaret Cox, who has been helping to recruit Irish nurses for NSW Health for the past 12 years as managing director of the ICE Group recruitment agency.

“The healthcare systems in the two countries are quite similar, and in addition to that, the personalities of the Irish nurses go down very well with patients and staff. They have a very ‘can-do’ attitude, which is combined with caring and kindness.”

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation claimed last month that up to three quarters of the 1,500 nurses who were recently granted registration in Ireland will be “forced to emigrate” to find permanent employment because of the complete freeze on recruitment in place since July.

More than 2,000 nurses applied for a certificate of verification to work abroad from An Bord Altranais (the nursing board) in the year to May. “In previous years, when we couldn’t fill the positions here in Ireland, we recruited in the UK, in France, Finland, India and the US,” says Cox. “But [the NSW Health] preference is for Irish-trained nurses if possible, and the demand for the jobs is definitely there now among recent graduates and people looking to advance their careers.”

Cox has noticed a rise in the number of nurses with families who are leaving to work in Australia, and those who have friends and relatives already living there. “Younger, recently qualified nurses are still keen to go out on a working holiday visa and work in the sun for a year, but there is a trend towards more long-term positions now, or those looking to secure permanent residency,” she said.

One of the biggest incentives is salaries. A newly qualified nurse or midwife in NSW, which offers the best remuneration packages in the country, starts on an annual wage of $54,234 (€43,845). This compares to just €27,211 for new staff nurses on the first level of the pay scale in Ireland.

Every additional year of nursing experience adds about $1,000 (€803) to core pay. Salaries have been consistently increasing at all grades over the past few years too, rising by about 5 per cent since 2010.


Michelle Roche with her daughters Ella and Cáit

Nurses in the Australian healthcare system are also promised exposure to “state-of-the-art nursing practices”, according to Cox. “With their positive attitude, they are very likely to get promoted quickly. If they decide to come back to Ireland, they bring with them very good experience that allows them to apply for more senior roles here quicker than they would if they had stayed in the health service in Ireland.”

Successful candidates chosen at next week’s interviews will be helped with visa applications and nursing registration, and liaison officers will also be available to them in Australia.

Back in Kildare, Michelle Roche and her family have their fingers crossed. “We have been thinking about the move for a long time,” she says, estimating that her salary would increase by about €15,000 per year for the same job she currently does here in Ireland. There would also be more employment opportunities on offer in NSW for her partner, who is currently looking for work. “We are all very outdoorsy so the lifestyle will really suit us. At this stage I have no hesitations, I would go tomorrow.”

The hospital where she currently works has been very supportive of her decision to leave. “My director of nursing told me I would be mad not to, that if she was my age she’d be gone too,” she says. “Everyone has the same opinion. I am 100 per cent sure about our decision.”

Interviews for nursing positions in New South Wales will take place in Dublin next Friday, December 7th. For full details see

To apply for any advertised position in Australia, or to attend next week’s interviews, candidates must have applied for registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, which assesses overseas qualifications, skills and experience. See

More information on working in healthcare in Australia can be found on the Royal College of Nursing website,

“Irish nurses are well-sought after here”

Noreen Murray (51) qualified as a nurse in Cork in 1983 when unemployment was high, and decided to move to Australia to find work.

“A lot of my friends were devastated that they couldn’t get work but I was delighted to be going away,” she says.

“I was only planning to go for three years and see how things were, but I absolutely loved Australia. It is a country of opportunity. In Ireland, you have to wait and wait for someone to resign or retire to move up the ladder, but in Australia there is a quicker turnaround.”

Murray has been working as a midwife in Sydney ever since, with the exception of a 12-month period in the Rotunda in Dublin in the mid-1990s. “Irish nurses are well-sought after here. They are known for their good work ethic, and their balanced outlook on life,” she says. “If I was a young 20-something in Ireland and unemployed looking at the grey sky and the rain, it would be a no-brainer for me to come to Australia where I can get a job and live in the sun.”

Emma Harrington (27) is a Trinity-educated mental-health nurse from Leixlip who moved to Sydney three years ago to work in a forensic hospital. She has since become a permanent Australian resident.

Emma Harrington with Irish physiotherapist Paula-Jean McCarthy at Coogee beach in Sydney where Harrington lives

“There’s a lot of Irish mental-health nurses over here. Nurses do general training in Australia, so Irish nurses with specific mental-health training or experience have a huge advantage,” she says.

“My sister just qualified as a nurse at home, and her class have all found it difficult to get work. Student nurses are on 60 per cent of the wages they would have got a few years ago, until they get a contract. When I left there was still work around, but now, not as much.”

Harrington says her career has taken off since she moved to Australia. “Within the first year I had become a clinical nurse specialist, and now I am also an educator, and they are paying for me to do a two-year Masters in forensic mental health. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity at home. The cost of living is more expensive than home, but my wages match that.

“Initially, when I came over here, I didn’t know how long I would stay. It seemed very far away from home, but my lifestyle is so much better now and I love the work I do, so for the moment I am not going anywhere.

“I miss my family, but I would be going home to a massive pay cut. I have to weigh these things up.”

Anne Clancy (27) from Co Leitrim was working as agency staff in Cavan Hospital since she graduated in 2008, but decided to move to Australia last year when she heard rumours that agency nurses were going to be let go.

“I knew there wouldn’t be much more work around for me. It was a scary time, everything seemed to be collapsing in Ireland,” she says. “All of my friends were going travelling, so I decided to go over to Australia on a working holiday visa.”

Clancy was offered a few jobs in Australian hospitals before she left Ireland, but wanted to wait until she got there to decide where she would settle. After a short time with an agency in Brisbane, she moved to central Queensland where she now works in a rural area as a clinical nurse on a mental health community team.

“It is a really good job, I would have been waiting years to get this in Ireland. I just have to say I was trained in Ireland and it almost guarantees you a job in Australia as a nurse.”