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Specialist English skills provide pathway for migrants


Specialist English skills provide pathway for qualified migrants to fill desperately needed healthcare jobs

• Demand in the healthcare sector is unprecedented, and there are shortages of skilled workers • Cambridge Boxhill Language Assessment’s Occupational English Test (OET) is providing experienced migrants with the means to upskill their English and use their medical abilities in New Zealand

Skills shortages are being filled thanks to international workers taking a healthcare specific English test to accelerate their careers and gain employment in New Zealand’s health sector.

Qualified nurse Anju Mary James gained a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in India after four years of study, before working as a surgical ICU nurse for two years, and six months as a cardiac specialist nurse.

She then moved to New Zealand to advance her nursing career, and completed OET, which specialises in testing communication skills specific to the healthcare sector.

She says OET set her up well to work in the New Zealand healthcare environment.

“There are a lot of changes between working in New Zealand and India – the culture, the food – so many things are different. I can use a lot of the same nursing skills but the Occupational English Test means I also feel confident talking to patients.”

OET comprises four sub-tests – Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking, with each sub-test replicating real-life communication scenarios that healthcare professionals would be likely to encounter in the workplace.

“In the test there are a lot of recognisable medical terms, and then you have to go through a practical scenario where you talk with a patient, so it is very specialised to nursing,” says Ms James.

Anju Mary James is currently completing the Competency Assessment Programme for Nurses at Whitireia – where an approved English language test is a prerequisite – which includes a practical nursing placement. She says nursing in New Zealand has a lot of similarities but is considerably different to working in India.

“Everyone is very kind here and loves nurses. People have a high level of respect for nurses, and it feels rewarding to know you are making a difference for patients,” says Ms James.

Carmel Haggerty, Head of School of Health and Social Services at Whitireia, says it is fantastic to see so many qualified nurses coming through with language skills specific to healthcare.

“Our Competency Assessment Programme includes a practical placement for students in aged care facilities and hospitals, where most get offered full time work. The students in our course who have passed the OET are very well regarded and there is a good uptake for employment given their skills,” says Ms Haggerty.

“With our changing demographics in New Zealand, it is great to have international nurses who can work across multiple cultures – which offers a richer and deeper cultural connection for patients.”

Research shows effective communication in the healthcare sector is vital, especially with a growing number of skilled migrant healthcare professionals working in New Zealand.

OET Chief Executive Officer Sujata Stead says the assessment helps candidates develop English skills that are linked to quality of care, patient satisfaction and safety to meet New Zealand’s needs in the sector.

“New Zealand is seeing a rise in demand for skilled healthcare workers with an aging population and increase in chronic illnesses – so there is a growing demand for skilled workers with strong communication skills.

“OET is unique among international English language tests in that it replicates real healthcare communication scenarios and the clinical communication of test-takers, to ensure they are best placed to deliver quality patient care,” says Ms Stead.

OET is the world’s only international health sector-specific English language assessment. Although there are versions of the test specific to 12 different professions, more than 90% of healthcare professionals who have taken the test in New Zealand in the last 12 months were nursing candidates.

OET is endorsed by Immigration NZ and Healthcare boards and councils.


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