'I earn double what I would in Ireland, and it's tax-free' – Irish nurses tell us about the reality of working abroad

Hundreds of nursing graduates move abroad to pursue their career in healthcare every year.

While up to 40,000 nursing staff undergo industrial action in the row over their demand for pay parity, we spoke to three Irish nurses about the reality of working abroad and what their pay, working conditions and lifestyles are like in comparison to their counterparts at home.

Suzie Jackson, Melbourne: ‘I can’t help but feel eaten up with guilt for leaving my parents, I feel the heartbreak with every goodbye, it doesn’t get easier’

My name is Suzie Jackson. I’m 27 and I’m from Carrigaline, Co. Cork.

I have been working as a nurse in Australia for nearly four years. The main reason I moved to Australia was to pursue my nursing career. I worked in Cork for six months after graduating, before I realised the grass is really greener on the other side.

To tell the truth, those first six months were probably the most difficult and challenging months of my whole nursing career. It really tests you mentally, physically and emotionally. As a new graduate, with a whole new level of responsibility, you are really thrown into the deep end with little support around you due to staff shortages, lack of resources, long waiting lists and patients on trolleys. You have no control over the situation. It really is a case of sink or swim.

I felt helpless and frustrated that I couldn’t give the best care I was capable of because it was simply not possible due to time constraints. The reality of nursing in Ireland is being paid under minimum wage, not peeing for hours because you simply don’t have a minute, skipping lunch break until your tummy rumbles embarrassingly, staying in work over an hour late unpaid just to get your documentation done to cover yourself in case anything happened (this would equal 13 hours), sleepless nights due to fear and worry of what you have/haven’t done.

In comparison, in Australia, I am earning over double what I would be at home and the patient to staff ratio is halved. It’s 4:1 during the day, compared to 7:1 in Ireland. I actually have time to build a rapport with my patients and give them the emotional support they need instead of barely knowing their name and rushing off to another million jobs.

There is a great work/life balance. I am much happier now, I can sleep contently knowing that I have had a good day. I leave my shift satisfied that I have done the best job that I could possibly do.

I work in the Alfred Hospital, the number one trauma centre in Victoria, and the experience I have gained is invaluable. It is a fantastic teaching hospital and the education opportunities and courses are endless.

All the nurses abroad uniting together saying “give us a reason to come home” should really hit home for Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar. It’s important for them to take notice how it’s tearing our families apart. Think of all the mothers and fathers who are missing their daughters and sons at family events and Christmas year after year. Think of the awful dreaded airport goodbyes where parents and children are sobbing uncontrollably not knowing when they will see each other next. As an only child this is a really tough one for me and my parents, and I can’t help but feel eaten up with guilt for leaving them, I feel the heartbreak with every goodbye, it doesn’t get easier.

Think of the future, if this is not rectified we will have no new graduates staying in Ireland and have all the other nurses burnt out. There will be nobody to blame but ourselves. Listen to nurses to allow us give the patient the care they deserve.

Darren Carroll, Abu Dhabi: ‘I earn double what I would in Ireland, and it’s tax-free’

I am a trained emergency room nurse with a BSc in nursing and MSc in science. I joined nursing in 2013 because I always wanted a career in caring for others and to be able to work in a job where I felt like I really made a difference at the end of the day.

However, after surviving 2 years as a newly graduate nurse in a busy inner city ER, I decided that my mental health was more important than 1.

I was trying to fool myself that I could make a difference when, truth to be told, it is impossible to give a high standard of patient care in today’s Irish healthcare setting due to staff shortages.

Also, if I realistically ever wanted to own my own house, staying in Ireland on a current nurses’ salary was not a realistic option. It was burn-out time, and that was just after two years.

So, I decided to move to the Middle East, Abu Dhabi, where I have resided and worked as a nurse for the last four years.

The Middle East, like the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, really appreciate and place high value on Irish nurses.

The hospital booked and paid for my flights to Abu Dhabi, drove me to my brand new one-bedroom apartment when I arrived and had bags of groceries waiting for me so I did not have to worry about food shopping on my first few days. I was stunned… I am just a nurse after all!

Since then I have been promoted in less than two years, I have moved to an even nicer one-bedroom apartment with a swimming pool and a gym. It’s all paid for by the hospital. I earn double what I would in Ireland, and it’s tax-free. I have been sent to the USA for specialised training, the flights and all the course fees and hotel expenses were paid for. I have saved in four years in the UAE what it would take 23 years to save in Dublin as a nurse paying extortionate rents. I have no plans to return to Ireland. I think the working conditions for nurses at home are ‘third world’ in my opinion.

I am reading on social media about Ireland’s nurses who are at their breaking point and wanted to share with them, and others, how unjust they are being treated when compared to other healthcare facilities around the world. I don’t want to rub salt in the wounds of my fellow nursing colleagues in Ireland but to highlight the unjust by the way in which they are being treated,

It saddens me to read and listen to the stories of Ireland’s nurses who are at their breaking point due to staff shortages and burn out.

Ireland’s healthcare system is a sham. They should be paying Irish nurses what they truly deserve to be paid and thus preventing this mass migration of highly qualified Irish nurses. The country spends thousands on training us, only to allow us to be shipped off to the Middle East and beyond.

I really hope Irish nurses get what they are asking for.

Laura Phillips, Sydney: ‘I know of so many nurses wishing to go home but fear returning to work in the current health system’

I’m 28 years old from Knockylon in Dublin and went to Trinity College to study general nursing. I live in Sydney, Australia and work as an anaesthetic and recovery nurse in one of the major teaching hospitals here.

I have been living here for three and a half years and the main the reason I left was because I could not work as a nurse in Ireland anymore.

I was left defeated, exhausted and frustrated at the end of every shift. The pay I received at the end of the month for an extremely challenging job, both mentally and physically, was about €2,000. I felt this wage was not an adequate representation of our skills and the working conditions were shocking. Patient safety was put at risk on a daily basis due to a lack of staff on the floor.

Looking after sick patients on trolleys and an average patient load of six-eight on a day shift was something I just wasn’t prepared to do anymore.

I don’t intend to compare health systems, but working as a nurse in Sydney I feel respected and I feel that my skills are recognised. I get paid equally to allied health professionals who also work at the patient bedside, this has a domino effect improving all other working conditions. The hospitals here are heavily staffed by Irish nurses and we are praised for our work ethic and high standard of skills almost daily. Our training is extensive in Ireland and it shows the sad reality that another health system reaps the rewards of this.

I hope to move home to work as a nurse sooner rather than later. I do love my life here but I miss my family. I’m aware that working conditions in the health system in Ireland will not be as good as those in Australia, but, at the very least, I expect that respect and recognition of our skills will be reflected by equal pay.

I organised a solidarity protest with my colleagues here because we wanted to show support to all Irish nurses. I know of so many nurses wishing to go home but fear returning to work in the current health system.

The response was amazing on the day and over 250 nurses turned up. This speaks for itself.

  • Read more: ‘We work so hard to be so poor’ – three nurses tell us why they’re striking with thousands nationwide today

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