Nursing Flipped Upside Down: Working For The NHS vs Travel Nursing Round Australia


Picture this. It’s a Tuesday night. You’ve just finished a thirteen-hour shift, you’re driving home and its pouring with rain. There’s not a lot to do when you get back, so you stick on the television, close your eyes and reflect on long, tiring day. This was a typical day of mine as an NHS nurse. Tired and already burnt out, I was lured to Australia by the prospect of travel and earning more than enough to afford a jacket potato. Therefore, after the long, tedious application, extensive medical and several hundred pounds later, I was sat on the flight, wondering if I had made the right decision. The thought of leaving scared me, but the idea of staying was unimaginable. Consequently, if you’re considering making the jump down under, here are some of the main healthcare differences between working for the NHS and travel nursing round Australia.            

This could be your morning commute

The Flexibility Of Choosing When and Where to Work

Healthcare Australia is the main recruiter for the U.K. and Ireland. It employs agency nurses to work both public and private across all states in Australia allowing them to travel and pick up work as they go. As a former NHS employee, this idea of flexibility was alien and the difference was palpable.

Work can be frequent, but not as consistent. You may be called up at five in the morning to go to a shift, or you might get booked the week before. It’s important to have your phone switched on at all times, as you are essentially on call when you say you’re available. In addition, some states may have more work than others, so there may be dry spells in the area you want to be. Despite this, I have loved the flexibility of choosing my own shifts as it’s allowed me to work and travel at the same time.

Missing the english weather in Melbourne

The Acuity is Less in Private Hospitals

In the NHS, acuity is high, with bed pressures and understaffing contributing to patients becoming very sick and requiring urgent medical attention. Whilst this is also true in Australia, agencies generally send their nurses to private wards, meaning most patients aren’t as acutely unwell as most are having elective surgeries. Therefore, it is unlikely that you will come across the same level of sickness that you do back in the NHS.

Relaxing after a shift is quite different in Australia

There Aren’t Any Healthcare Assistants in Australia

The patient ratio here is less, with nurses taking five patients instead of eight. However, with the absence of Healthcare Assistants in Australia, every task has to be undertaken by the nurse. Washes are more difficult, as you have to balance drug rounds with personal care. Additionally, despite there being less acuity, the demands of a private patient can be extreme, with requests ranging from ‘microwave my blanket’ to ‘make my water less tepid’. Although there is less medical demand than back in the U.K., you are never short of work.

Morning coffee breaks

The Shift Times Are Shorter

Generally, the shifts in Australia are a lot shorter than the ones back home. This can have advantages and disadvantages. In the U.K., you would only need to work three, thirteen-hour shifts to make up the week, whereas you would need to work four or five days in Australia. Despite this, going from a thirteen-hour shift with no break, to an eight-hour shift with two breaks was a welcome surprise.

One of the places you could be living

Australia Pays More Than The U.K.

Australian agency pay is a lot better than public health pay in the U.K., but work is less frequent. Agency shifts may be cancelled at the last minute with no warning and there is little work over the holidays. Although traveling round is fantastic, there is less security, which can be daunting. Whilst they both seem to balance themselves out, Australian pay still has the advantage.

Overall, despite the differences, working as a travel nurse in Australia has enabled me to explore the country whilst doing the job I love. It’s given me opportunity to experience various aspects of Healthcare and most importantly, it’s given me the freedom and flexibility to have a life. Whilst some elements change, nursing is ultimately the same in whatever country you go to, therefore if you fancy a little adventure, Australia may be the place for you.