WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2019
Specialist English skills provide pathway for qualified migrants to fill desperately needed healthcare jobs
• Demand in the healthcare sector is unprecedented, and there are shortages of skilled workers • Cambridge Boxhill
Language Assessment’s Occupational English Test (OET) is providing experienced migrants with the means to upskill their
English and use their medical abilities in New Zealand
Skills shortages are being filled thanks to international workers taking a healthcare specific English test to
accelerate their careers and gain employment in New Zealand’s health sector.
Qualified nurse Anju Mary James gained a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in India after four years of study,
before working as a surgical ICU nurse for two years, and six months as a cardiac specialist nurse.
She then moved to New Zealand to advance her nursing career, and completed OET, which specialises in testing
communication skills specific to the healthcare sector.
She says OET set her up well to work in the New Zealand healthcare environment.
“There are a lot of changes between working in New Zealand and India – the culture, the food – so many things are
different. I can use a lot of the same nursing skills but the Occupational English Test means I also feel confident
talking to patients.”
OET comprises four sub-tests – Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking, with each sub-test replicating real-life
communication scenarios that healthcare professionals would be likely to encounter in the workplace.
“In the test there are a lot of recognisable medical terms, and then you have to go through a practical scenario where
you talk with a patient, so it is very specialised to nursing,” says Ms James.
Anju Mary James is currently completing the Competency Assessment Programme for Nurses at Whitireia – where an approved
English language test is a prerequisite – which includes a practical nursing placement. She says nursing in New Zealand
has a lot of similarities but is considerably different to working in India.
“Everyone is very kind here and loves nurses. People have a high level of respect for nurses, and it feels rewarding to
know you are making a difference for patients,” says Ms James.
Carmel Haggerty, Head of School of Health and Social Services at Whitireia, says it is fantastic to see so many
qualified nurses coming through with language skills specific to healthcare.
“Our Competency Assessment Programme includes a practical placement for students in aged care facilities and hospitals,
where most get offered full time work. The students in our course who have passed the OET are very well regarded and
there is a good uptake for employment given their skills,” says Ms Haggerty.
“With our changing demographics in New Zealand, it is great to have international nurses who can work across multiple
cultures – which offers a richer and deeper cultural connection for patients.”
Research shows effective communication in the healthcare sector is vital, especially with a growing number of skilled
migrant healthcare professionals working in New Zealand.
OET Chief Executive Officer Sujata Stead says the assessment helps candidates develop English skills that are linked to
quality of care, patient satisfaction and safety to meet New Zealand’s needs in the sector.
“New Zealand is seeing a rise in demand for skilled healthcare workers with an aging population and increase in chronic
illnesses – so there is a growing demand for skilled workers with strong communication skills.
“OET is unique among international English language tests in that it replicates real healthcare communication scenarios
and the clinical communication of test-takers, to ensure they are best placed to deliver quality patient care,” says Ms
OET is the world’s only international health sector-specific English language assessment. Although there are versions of
the test specific to 12 different professions, more than 90% of healthcare professionals who have taken the test in New
Zealand in the last 12 months were nursing candidates.
OET is endorsed by Immigration NZ and Healthcare boards and councils.