With the war in Ukraine a tragic, ongoing feature of 2022, Edith Cowan University has opened its arms to refugee nurses with a free scholarship program, offering nurses forced to flee their homes the chance to use their skills in Australia.

The scholarship will see 10 nurses, who are registered in their homeland, undertake the International Adaptation Program, making them eligible to work in Australian hospitals and other healthcare settings. 

The national healthcare staff shortage has been well documented, yet there are many refugees who are qualified nurses in their country of origin but are currently unable to practice in Australia due to their qualifications not being recognised. 

This innovative solution, the Scholarship for Refugee Nurses, will be delivered in collaboration with the WA Department of Health and MercyCare, and the announcement coincides with Refugee Week 2022, held Sunday 19th to Saturday the 25th of June. 

The WA Health Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Dr Robina Redknap said she was delighted to support additional scholarships and thanked the North Metro Health Service for committing to offer the refugee nurses clinical placements. 

“Completing the program makes them eligible to work in Australian healthcare settings, helping them transition into their new lives while also addressing the needs of the WA healthcare system.” 

ECU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery executive dean, Professor Karen Strickland, said the scholarship realised many benefits for WA, by enabling the health service and the refugee and asylum seeker community to mutually support each other. 

“WA is currently experiencing an acute shortage of RNs which puts significant pressure on the delivery of clinical services, as well as affecting the wellbeing of the existing workforce,” Professor Strickland said. 

“I am delighted to be offering fee-waived scholarships to nurses who are refugees in WA – we recognise many refugees who are nurses have vast expertise, but face challenges with gaining registration to practice in Australia.” 

“Our course at ECU helps those nurses gain registration to allow them to practice and make a significant contribution to our community health, [and] furthermore, we want to help those refugees who are part of our nursing community to settle in Australia and be welcomed into our community.” 

Professor Strickland said that the partnership with MercyCare provided the program with direct access to the asylum seeker and refugee community, enabling them to work with potential applicants who meet the criteria. 

She highlighted that one of their concerns was that as refugees have fled their country, accessing records back home could actually expose them, or their relatives, to the potential risk of further persecution. 

“This is a real challenge, and it’s something that we’ve given quite a lot of consideration to. But again, it’s one of the benefits of us as a university working with the NGO Mercy Care, because they can navigate – and help the applicants navigate – some of this complex, complex territory,” Professor Strickland said. 

“Some [refugees] have actually managed to bring their documentation with them when they’ve fled the country – it’s usually one of the few things that they prioritize to take with them. 

“However, there will be some that might not be able to provide proof as required due to ongoing conflict.” 

MercyCare employment liaison officer, Jacqui Wheland, said the partnership with ECU addressed some of the barriers faced by refugees and asylum seekers and offered a clear path to build on existing professional skills and transfer them to the local context. 

“As a refugee or asylum seeker new to Western Australia, it can be a daunting process to register to practice your profession locally: there is so much to navigate and understand, while also adjusting to settling in a new country, as well as the overwhelming financial barrier,” Ms Wheland said. 

“So many of our refugee and asylum seeker clients have existing skills, qualifications and experience they are yearning to use to help others and be contributing members in their new community.  

“And in the case of registered nurses, it’s a perfect scenario to gain meaningful employment whilst helping alleviate pressure on the Western Australian health system.”