09 Aug Interview with the “Enfermera Nomada”
Nurse Mo: Why did you become a nurse?
Elena Pérez: I born as a premature baby. I was 26 weeks and I weighed less than 2 pounds. I had to have a cardiac surgery when I was a really tiny baby so I spent the beginning of my life often visiting the hospital. It was like my second home and I loved being there with the nurses and doctors. I always wanted to study nursing, but it wasn’t until my early twenties (after obtaining a tourism degree) that I finally decided to be brave and enroll in nursing school. It was very difficult. In Spain, you are supposed to choose a specific curriculum in high school in order to get in certain universities. You have the option of choosing science, technology, humanities, or art in high school. Unfortunately, I chose humanistic (art history, etc) so I wasn’t accepted in any public universities because of my previous educational path. I had no choice other than to study in a private university. Private universities are really expensive, but luckily I was helped by my parents. They paid part of my tuition fees and allowed me to live with them. Meanwhile, I still had to work while I studied in nursing school which wasn’t easy at all.
Nurse Mo: Where did you start your career, what specialty, and where are you working now?
Elena Pérez: I started working in Barcelona. At that time, we had a huge economical crisis and unemployment on health care so I took the only thing I was offered. It was a position as a nurse in a mental health hospital. I had more than 20 patients on my own. It was horrible! I was a new grad, with not even a day of orientation. I had no idea what I needed to do or what I was not supposed to do. I cried every day after my shift on my way back home feeling I wasn’t a good enough nurse. All of the patients in that unit were really old ladies in their 80’s and their 90’s with big disabilities and chronic diseases as diabetes, high BP, etc… It was a sad situation, as most of them were abandoned in this mental health hospital by their parents when they were babies. They never lived outside and they didn’t have any proper education. I really think if any of those women were born in today’s day and age, they would have been able to have a pretty normal life. Now I’m working in Cardiac PICU. I was a cardiac intensive care nurse for about three years more before I decided to switch from adults to pediatrics and I love it!
Nurse Mo: What countries have you worked in? What was the licensing process from country to country? What is your favorite country to work in and why?
Elena Pérez: I lived and worked in Barcelona, Spain in different areas like mental health, trauma ward, and operation room. I also worked in the south of France in a nursing home and in the UK in critical care. In Europe, it was pretty easy to move around. I only needed to do my nursing registrations through their national boards and it only took a few months. I was really lucky that they didn’t ask me for any kind of language test then. Now if someone wants to move to the UK or France as a nurse, they would have to pass the IELTS or DELF exam. My favorite country at the moment is England. I really love London! It’s an amazing city full of people from different countries, full of cultural activities and even with it being a big city it has a lot of green areas. I was really surprised my first week in England when they told me I would have some study days instead of shifts. Being able to study during working hours was shocking! In England, they have lots of nursing specialties like practice educator, diabetes nurse, outpatients nurse, advanced nurse practitioner, etc… We don’t have those kind of specialties in Spain. Nurses can’t grow in their career and hospitals don’t value the effort made by nurses to study on their days offs. It’s a different way to work opposed to my home country. I’m not able to do some procedures as in my home country like cannulation (this a doctor’s responsibility), but overall I’m happy.
Nurse Mo: What shift do you work ? What shifts are available to work?
Elena Pérez: In England, (at least in the NHS, Public Health from England) we have 13 shifts per month and we work 37.5 hours per week. We can choose 6 days off, but it depends on the unit. They usually accommodate the shifts for every nurse although it’s not always possible. We work three shifts per week (except one week of 4 shifts) and we work nights and days on the same week. I know in some units they work early shifts and late shifts, but never in critical care. I don’t think it’s a very healthy pattern to work nights and days in the same shifts. On my last job I put on a lot of weight because of it.
Nurse Mo: What is the average patient load (patient to nurse ratio)? Do you feel it is a safe load?
Elena Pérez: Totally safe! We only have one ventilated patient per nurse and sometimes two non ventilated patients per nurse, but it’s not very often. During my three years here, I only had two patients one night and it was because we were very short staffed.
Nurse Mo: Do you get scheduled breaks?
Elena Pérez: Yes, but they aren’t paid which I don’t think is fair. We have a one hour break divided into a 15 minute breakfast, 30 minute lunch, and a 15-30 min tea break lunch. If you are busy with your patient or writing the nursing notes, you won’t do that break in order to go home early.
Nurse Mo: How does health insurance work, is it through your employer?
Elena Pérez: In England, we have “free” public healthcare (not totally free since we pay it from our taxes), but it doesn’t matter what kind of disease or how much money you have. You’d be treated free of charge and with the same standard like the rest of the people. In Spain it is the same.
Nurse Mo: Do you have paid vacations?
Elena Pérez: Yes, 7 weeks per year. We are not allowed to ask for more than two weeks in a row, but you can always speak with your manager if you live far and need more than two weeks. In my case, I won’t ever need more since Barcelona is only a 2 hour flight from London. Next year I’d like to have a month non paid to be able to travel and maybe help in a PICU mission.
Nurse Mo: Do you feel the pay is comfortable for your cost of living?
Elena Pérez: No. The nursing salary starts on 21K per year plus London allowance if you live in there. It’s really low salary if you compare it with other jobs with less responsibility and the standard life in London is very expensive. In other English cities, you can get more quality of life for the same amount of money but right now I don’t want to move from London.
Nurse Mo: Would you stay in this profession or would you like to transition into another field?
Elena Pérez: I love being a cardiac PICU nurse, but I don’t see myself working in this area all my life. Too stressful and I hate doing nights. There are two health fields which interest me the most. One is public health and the other is Aesthetic Medicine. I utilize my blog by bringing people together, sharing what I know and learning from others to help devise my next step for career elevation.
Check out other posts from the Nomad Nurse on her blog: