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International Intrigue in Nursing

American nurses find personal adventure and professional advancement through working abroad.

Home from a bad day at work, Erin Bowers, BSN, RN, decided to browse nursing job opportunities online. She visited a few travel nursing recruiter websites, casually left her contact information and then went to bed.

The next morning, her phone logged five missed calls from travel nursing agencies responding to her half-hearted queries. Most offered positions within the U.S., but one stood out because it specialized in jobs overseas. The 24-year-old, who had never traveled alone, followed up with the global recruiter on a whim.

"I was just looking for something different," recalled Bowers."A challenge, both on a professional and personal level."

Talk with the recruiter piqued her interest and gradually solidified her intent, which led to paperwork, interviews, fees and more paperwork. In between was plenty of waiting, and, Bowers admitted, a few spurts of trepidation.

"My dad kept saying, 'You do realize that if you need me I am at least two days away?'" said Bowers. "A bit scary."

But with her eye on the prize (in her case, a nursing job in Sydney, Australia), Bowers pressed on. Earlier this year, she moved more than 9,000 miles from her home in Ann Arbor, Mich., to begin a job at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney.

"The whole process took over a year, but I can definitely say without question that it has been worth the wait, money and time," said Bowers, who relocated to the continent sight unseen.

"I had never been to Australia before I moved here, but I have friends who had been and loved it. So I guess I just decided that I probably would, too," she said. "And if I hated it, I just decided that I would have at least gained an experience that lots of other people never get the chance to have."


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Australian Adventure

Before she left the U.S., Bowers made a promise to herself: No matter what, she'd stick it out Down Under for at least a year. Fast forward six months, and that promise seems likely an easy one to keep.

"I really am enjoying myself here. I feel like every day that I am off of work, I am on vacation. It has been so fun exploring Sydney and making plans to explore Australia," she said. "Australians are some of the nicest people I have ever met."

Personal adventure aside, working overseas is an opportunity for professional growth and can enhance your nursing career, said Ann Griffin, former RN and founder of the global healthcare recruitment company Professional Connections.

"We live in an increasingly global world, and healthcare is no exception," said Griffin, who is currently recruiting nurses and other healthcare professionals for positions with hospitals in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Australia, England and Ireland. "At Professional Connections, we see it time and time again - the nurse who has international experience on her résumé is highly sought after. She can pretty much name her choice of jobs when she returns to her home country."

What does an overseas job communicate to a potential employer? Initiative, flexibility and communication skills, said Griffin, which are all sought-after strengths in today's job candidates.

"Working abroad is a terrific long-term career growth strategy," she added.

Bowers hopes her Australian experience will one day help her stand out and demonstrate her adaptability to future employers - whomever and wherever they may be.

"I have just been trying to enjoy and embrace my experiences here," said Bowers, who, off one big step, is not plotting a next anytime soon. "I like planning and thinking of my future. But at the moment, not knowing what's next is part of the excitement."

From Atlanta to Abaya

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is a long way physically and culturally from Atlanta, where Annette Russell, MSN, MHA, BSN, RN, worked as a unit director at Emory University Hospital up until April 2012.

"I had travelled internationally before, but never to the Middle East," said Russell. "My transition has gone exceptionally well. My first month, I was somewhat apprehensive as I was still learning what was OK culturally to do or not."

The learning curve would be large, no doubt, for most Americans. In Saudi Arabia, women wear the abaya, a traditional black robe that covers them from the neck down, in public. Many use an accompanying scarf to cover their hair (and, if they don't, may be asked to by the motawaaa, or civilian police).

In restaurants and at other public events, women and men are seated in different areas, unless they are from the same immediate family. Alcohol is prohibited, as is initiating a handshake with a man.

More than a year into her assignment as head of nursing for general surgery at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, Riyadh, which employs staff from more than 60 countries, Russell's daily life there is proof positive of her ability to flourish personally and professionally despite cultural and language differences.

"I am extremely happy in Saudi Arabia, and I love my work," said Russell, who happily dons the abaya when in public  as this is the law  and shows respect for the local culture. ("It's really not bad," she said. "I have no issues with it.") At work, abayas are not required, and female nurses are permitted both to work alongside and perform physical assessments on men.


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When rounding on her unit's 34 patients, Russell is accompanied by the assistant head nurse, a Saudi citizen who speaks Arabic and translates for Russell. Russell's duties also include preparing weekly two-hour Magnet education sessions for the unit (the hospital has committed to the Magnet journey), and all are excited as they await their site visit, and she is also heavily involved staff scheduling and helping out with patient care whenever nurses need help. She is a hand's on head nurse and loves bedside nursing. Work weeks at the hospital run 44 hours, and staff are paid monthly.

The 25-year nursing veteran believes her experience will attract future U.S.-based employers, although she is in no hurry to end her time at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, with its tax free salaries, free healthcare, free annual ticket to and from home, and 54 paid vacation days a year. (Did she mention the two "rest days" that bumper the beginning and end of each vacation and which are not counted in the official 54 days off? Indeed, she did.)

Russell also spoke of fabulous restaurants, embassy events, off-the-clock staff gatherings, many offered through the hospital social club, and the daily opportunity to contribute to the lives of patients and to learn from her colleagues in a hospital she considers top notch.

"My focus is to learn as much as I can while I am here and to find new ways to make a difference in the lives of our patients and families," she said. "Clinically, I feel very fortunate to work at a facility that is so grounded in research, evidence-based practice and clinical improvement so that, when I leave and return home, I will take that knowledge to share at yet another quality organization."

Upon her return home she plans to return to the classroom and teaching her other passion ,with her new  knowledge to share, motivate and encourage new recruits to this wonderful profession of nursing.


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Living the American Dream

Judy Moseley, MS, MAN, RN, also left the U.S. - in her case, Minneapolis - to work in Saudi Arabia.

"I made the decision to come here as my children, triplets, were all finishing their last years at the university," she said. "I was ready for my own adventure after a busy 21 years raising my children and working."

As executive director for nursing affairs at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, Moseley has found fulfillment. On the job, her sphere of influence is broad, as she helps the organization meet its strategic priorities as well as recruit and retain qualified staff.

"Every day is different," she said, "and that is what I like about my job."

Her overseas experience has enabled her to grow in ways both personal and professional. She considers herself stronger, more accepting of others and a better communicator than before she made the move. Her clinical experience has also broadened, as she has seen numerous patients with complex conditions typically unheard of in the U.S.

"I may have read about some of them," she said. "But it is not until you work here that you really get to experience and learn about these conditions and treatments."

Nurses most likely to find success working overseas are those with an eagerness to learn and a high confidence level, Moseley said. Solid critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, too, are a must to thrive in a foreign land.

"If you love challenges, then go ahead and select this noble profession," she advised. "International nursing jobs offer a better salary, travel to places one would only dream of and the chance to meet fascinating individuals from around the world. It provides opportunities to satisfy the American dream."

Jolynn Tumolo is a freelance writer.  

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I really enjoyed reading of Ms. Russell's experiences working at King Faisal Hospital and Research Center. When I was in my 20's I worked at that facility for 3 years. I had also completed a 3 month contract at King Fahad Hospital for the National Guard, also in Riyadh. These experiences were fantastic adventures and opportunities for growth, both professionally and personally. It does indeed change one's perspective of the world to travel internationally and live in a different culture. I am happy to read that King Faisal Hospital and Research Center is continuing their tradition of excellent care for people from that part of the world.


Deanna ,  RN, OCN,  Travel NurseMarch 10, 2014

Sorry to see this article doesn't share the challenges very well. While trying to work in England, I would first have to work as a student nurse for 6 months while awaiting my work VISA to be approved.( I have been an RN for over 20 years) The pay is $ 8.50 per hour. Yes minimum wage for 6 months. This is after spending over $1000.00 for required testing and waiting a year for all the approvals.

stacy September 13, 2013


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