Looking past the typical categorizations of national identity, migrant, or nurse.
By Taylor Vaughn, Marie Louise Seeberg and Aslaug Gotehus
The very different laws and regulations shaping the migration and working patterns of Polish, Swedish, and Filipino nurses in Norway were a point of departure for our research. As expected, we found that these structural differences are greatest between the Swedish and Filipino nurses: Swedish nurse migration to Norway is actively supported through the Nordic co-operation while Filipino nurses face strict requirements both for immigration and for nurse registration.
The Concept of ‘Waiting’
Despite these drastic differences, we –surprisingly – found certain similarities in the experiences of the Filipino and Swedish nurses we interviewed. As our research progressed, we increasingly noticed the importance across national groups of family, of personal life goals, of money, and of a sense of moving forward in life.
In our recent article “Waiting: Migrant nurses in Norway,” we explore these similarities. In order to do that, we used the concept of “waiting.” This concept made it possible for us to have a broader perspective beyond the typical categorizations of national origin, migrant, or nurse. The commonalities in the types and length of waiting they experienced connect them across such categories, as individual people with their own particular experiences and thoughts.
Daisy, James, Lilly, and Frida
We included four nurses–Daisy, James, Lilly, and Frida–in the article so that we could take an in-depth look at their lives. Daisy and James are both educated in the Philippines and working as registered nurses in Norway. Both of them still have families living in the Philippines who depend on their economic support. Daisy has a Norwegian husband and a young child. James is single and saving to buy a house in Norway. Lilly and Frida are both educated in Sweden and working as registered nurses in Norway. After years of working back and forth between Sweden and Norway through recruitment agencies, Lilly eventually moved to Norway and has now settled down here. She is a single mother. Frida lived and worked in Norway for a few years, but is back in Sweden studying to become a medical doctor. She is single and still works in Norway during holidays.
Being stuck, feeling held back
All four had in some way felt stuck in their lives before they migrated to Norway. They described to us how their lives were not going the way they wanted in Sweden or the Philippines. Lilly did not want to spend her whole life in Sweden, but wanted to use her nursing training as a means to experience other countries. Norway is not very far from Sweden, but it is still different, and while she found that the visa and registration systems of other countries might present real obstacles to her, the Nordic co-operation policy made the transition to Norway easy:
The fact that I could just . . . It’s close to Sweden, and the travelling time is very short, of course. I could just go back and forth at any time. The minimum period [on the job in Norway] was two weeks, sometimes even one week. So it was perfect for me. […] I was in different cities, different hospitals each time. […] It was so exciting. I was like a mad person, everywhere. Yeah, it’s good. It was very exciting, new people and all the challenges.
Frida started working in Norway at a point where she felt she was almost moving backwards, not progressing towards the next phase in her life:
I started working in Sweden in [the 2010s], and I moved [. . .] to a town with my boyfriend. And then we split, so I just moved back to the town where I’m from, where I have my friends, and I moved in with my parents again. That’s not like [something] you want to do when you’re an adult of course. And I was very heartbroken. I had no job, I had no place to live.
James had felt held back by the unavailability of attractive career options for new nurses in the Philippines:
But if you’re thinking about providing a good life for your family, then you should find a job that pays well also. Because nurses in the Philippines, for example if you’re a nurse, the most is 20 000 pesos. So it’s like 3000 kroner per month. But you cannot live for 20 000 pesos, you cannot provide a good life for your family with 20 000 pesos. […]I worked as a nurse in the hospital in the Philippines, and then since it doesn’t pay well, I had to work as a call center agent.
For Daisy, it was this lack of opportunities combined with obstacles in her personal life that had led her to migrate to Norway:
We had a hard life, a very hard life. We didn’t have money, and my parents worked hard to provide for the family. […] So I had to choose to come here, or I would have been stuck there. Even as a nurse, I would not have been able to support my family with such a low salary.
Putting lives on hold and waiting
Although being able to move on in their lives was so important to them, they had all put their goals on hold at some point – for family, career, or for economic reasons. Both Daisy and Lily had at some point decided to stay where they were for their children’s sake: Daisy did not pursue her career in nursing, and Lily did not plan to travel the world while her child was young. Frida, on the other hand, wanted her career to be on the right track before she was ready to settle down and have children. James, who lived for his return visits to his beloved family in the Philippines, had decided he needed to establish a home of his own in Norway, which meant putting those expensive return visits on hold.
Family was an important factor throughout their lives and influenced our four nurses’ decisions, their time spent waiting, and the type of waiting they experienced. For James and Daisy, having migrated to Norway and finding relatively well-paid jobs here meant that they were finally able to support their extended families back home in the Philippines. Frida and Lily were not expected to remit to their families in Sweden and did not talk about their families in such terms. Although on good terms with their families in Sweden, for them creating the right conditions around their own new or future nuclear families and having children of their own to care for was important.
Many of these instances of waiting took place over prolonged periods. While we would often associate long periods of waiting with “wasted time,” the nurses did not always describe or view their time spent waiting this way. Instead, each of them made use of their time and engaged in activities which, either in retrospect or as a planned step, helped them accomplish their goals in the long run. While Lilly was waiting to leave Sweden and see the world, she gained nursing and language skills which in turn facilitated her goal. While waiting for their nurse registration in Norway, James and Daisy worked as assistant nurses. Those positions strengthened their language and practical skills, aiding their ability to get a job as a registered nurse in Norway. Frida’s entire nursing career can be seen as an asset in her ultimate goal of becoming a medical doctor.
Without undermining the importance of how the structural differences shape the experiences of nurses educated in Sweden and the Philippines, our research shows how lives take unexpected turns and that life-changing events are unpredictable. By looking at the nurses’ experiences through terms of waiting instead of national origin, migrant, or nurse, we were able to identify commonalities and draw links between the nurses, highlighting their humanity and individuality. This perspective is important to remember moving forward with the research. Although the circumstances of their waiting may be different, in many cases, waiting may be experienced similarly.
Taylor Vaughn, Marie Louise Seeberg, Aslaug Gotehus (2019): Waiting: Migrant nurses in Norway. Time & Society