What does it mean to be a nurse?

smiling nurse at hospital. photo: colourbox.com

Being a nurse means different things to different nurses, as experiences shape the professional identity into a part of one’s personal identity. In this sense, the question posed above is a psychological one.

Blog post by Marie Louise Seeberg

A question of national regulations

However, what it means to be a nurse is also very much a legal question. The nursing profession is regulated. This means that “nurse” is a protected title. You can’t just call yourself a nurse even if you feel like one, if you don’t meet the legal criteria.

There is no global definition. Each country has its own criteria. What it takes to fulfil the criteria is based on the content, shape, and size of the country’s own nursing education. This, again, is linked to its history, demographics, and culture.

In WELLMIG, we grapple with this question at all stages of the research. In our project proposal, which also serves as a guideline for the research, we defined “our” nurses as nurses educated in Sweden, Poland or the Philippines who are working as nurses, auxiliary nurses or “unskilled” healthcare workers in Norway. This definition clashes with that of Norwegian authorities, who only recognise as nurses those who have obtained Norwegian nurse registration (“autorisasjon” in Norwegian legalese).

Obtaining Norwegian nurse registration

Obtaining Norwegian nurse registration can be easy or it can be impossible. For nurses educated in Norway, it is easy. That is, easy after you have completed your nursing education in Norway, which is of course not easy at all but a lot of work, both theoretical and practical. But once you have done that, you are automatically registered as a nurse in the Norwegian legal system and you can legally take employment as a nurse in Norway.

If you are educated and registered as a nurse in Sweden, it is also easy to be registered as a nurse in Norway. You need to send your papers to Norwegian authorities, knowing that they will be accepted. If you fulfil the Swedish criteria, then Norway accepts that on par with fulfilling the Norwegian criteria. The same goes for nurses educated in Poland. This is not to say that it is necessarily easy to learn the language, to get a job or to be happy working as a nurse in Norway. All I am saying is that a Swedish educated nurse and a Polish educated nurse will be able to obtain Norwegian nurse registration without too much effort. Nordic and EU regulations have made that happen. It used to be harder before such international agreements were in place.

If you are a nurse educated and registered in the Philippines, Norwegian authorities will not automatically accept you as a nurse. The lack of a global definition and global agreements can hit you hard, not least because national criteria are changeable. One thing is certain: based solely on your Philippine credentials, however good they may be, your application for Norwegian nurse registration will be rejected. In the rejection letter, the authorities will tell you which criteria you would have needed to fulfil in order to be registered. Such criteria are quite comprehensive, such as learning the Norwegian language, and working as an intern in elderly care. You can use this information to plan your next move.

A moving target

However, as many of the nurses we have talked to have experienced, the rules can change before you have had time to follow all the advice given in your rejection letter. If so, your new application will be rejected, and you will receive new information on criteria that you did not fulfil. You are still not recognised as a nurse, and you can take no employment as a nurse in Norway.

If the rules have not changed, and you have fulfilled the criteria your first rejection letter informed you about, your new application will be accepted. You are now a registered nurse, and can take employment as a nurse in Norway.