International nurses spent up to two years away from their own families after relocating to Swansea Bay during the Covid pandemic.
These are among the huge sacrifices made by more than 130 nurses who were recruited from around the world in the past two years to boost the workforce and improve the level of care during a hugely challenging period.
Many came from India, Philippines, the Caribbean and Africa, spending months – years in some cases – without seeing their families in order to continue their development in nursing in Swansea Bay.
The level of sacrifice has been more than first anticipated for some of the nurses recruited from overseas.
For Susan Mhlahleli, the start of the Covid pandemic coinciding with her arrival from Zimbabwe meant she spent two years away from her husband and two children – one of whom has cerebral palsy – before they finally reunited in March this year.
Susan, who is a staff nurse on Morriston Hospital’s Pembroke Ward, said: “I came in March 2020 right at the start of Covid.
“The plan was for my family to come here two or three months after I arrived, but Covid hit and it wasn’t possible. There was a chance for them to come here, but I didn’t want them to spend 11 hours on a plane in a confined space in the heat of Covid.
“I wanted to progress my career and coming here gave me the experience to work with equipment I had only heard and read about.
“I originally came here wanting to be a perfusionist, but there are so many other opportunities I can now pursue.”
Susan was among the 130 overseas nurses who were invited to an event at the Swansea.com Stadium to show appreciation for their efforts and sacrifice.
The event was held to mark International Nurses Day, which coincides with the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.
Swansea Bay’s international nurses have predominantly gone into acute care settings in Singleton, Morriston and Neath Port Talbot hospitals.
At the celebratory event, nurses were treated to an afternoon tea, with a number of senior health board officials in attendance.
Mark Hackett, Swansea Bay UHB Chief Executive, said: “It was a fantastic event. These people have come from the other side of the world to work for Swansea Bay.
“It’s really heart-warming to see people and talk to them about why they wanted to come to Swansea Bay, and what they can contribute.
“We want to see a far more diverse work force where everybody gets an opportunity to advance and succeed in their careers.
“We have a thriving health system and there are huge opportunities for everybody, particularly these nurses who are giving an enormous boost to our workforce.
“We want to encourage more and more nurses to come here. By giving these international nurses a fantastic experience, what that will do is encourage their friends and colleagues to come to Swansea Bay.
“From our perspective, that will help us in delivering high-quality excellent patient care.”
Gareth Howells, executive director of nursing and patient experience, said: “These nurses have travelled from all parts of the world to come to our health board to help our communities and help us care for people who need it.
“It’s exceptionally brave and we owe them support and respect.
“These nurses complement the quality nurses we already had in the health board.
“They have a high level of experience – they are exceptionally skilled nurses.
“Whichever country these nurses have come from, they care and want to make a difference here.”
The influx of international nurses has helped fill a big void within the health board’s workforce.
Lynne Jones, heard of nursing education, has played a key role in the recruitment drive of international nurses.
“In what has been a very challenging time for the entire world over the past two years, these nurses have opted to continue their careers in Wales and our health board,” she said.
“They have made a huge contribution to filling vacancies and providing the level of care our patients require.
“As a health board, we are well aware of the sacrifices they have made to come here. They’ve left their homes, they families and job, which isn’t an easy decision to make.
“We are really pleased with our recruitment of overseas nurses over the past two years, and this event has shown them our appreciation of what they’ve brought to our health board.”
Other overseas nurses who attended the celebration included Beulah Shenje, who arrived from Zimbabwe in January 2020 and works in cardiology in Singleton Hospital.
She said: “This event made me feel special and appreciated.
“I was honoured the health board took the time to hold this event for us, and for senior figures to be in attendance.
“It means a lot to me and shows they appreciate us. This will certainly encourage more nurses from Africa to come to Swansea and help the health board even more.
“My friends in Zimbabwe have asked about coming here to work because they’ve heard so many good things.
“The exposure to more advanced technology here is a big thing because it helps you develop so you can help more people.
“Everyone shares the same goal here – helping people.”
Dolapo Akinnayajo works in Morriston Hospital’s Intensive Therapy Unit following her arrival from Nigeria in September 2020.
She spoke about the sense of pride felt in working for the health board, and believes her experience will encourage more nurses to pursue a nursing career in Swansea Bay.
She said: “I feel very proud to work for our health board. I believe we are all making a difference to the community.
“The reception we’ve received as nurses has been amazing. From the first impression onwards, what we’ve received is love and warmth. It has surpassed expectations.
“And now, to have an event like this put on for us international nurses really shows how much we are appreciated.
“I’ve been telling all my friends, family and former colleagues in Nigeria just how lovely Swansea and Wales is.
“It was a massive relocation but it was a huge opportunity.
“I am from a developing country, but this is a developed country and the bar is set high. There is access to world-class equipment to help people, and it helps develop you in your role too."