Nursing assistants Elizabeth Dominic and Biju Akkamparambil (right) have been working in Australia for 10 years and are calling for changes to the English testing prerequisite to become registered nurses. (Courtesy – SBS Malayalam)

Australians with years of experience in the healthcare sector are calling for changes to the English language test requirement when applying for nursing registration, arguing that the communication skills gained in the workplace have equipped them to do the job.

Biju Akkamparambil is an Indian migrant who moved to Australia from the United Kingdom more than 10 years ago.

Despite working as a nursing assistant at Townsville Hospital, he is yet to register as a nurse as he has not cleared the English language requirement needed to be certified.

Australia requires those wishing to become registered nurses to achieve scores above a certain threshold in one of four tests.

“I am an Australian citizen with more than 10 years of work experience in (the) health sector, and I feel it’s unfair to ask (me) to sit for English language test for nursing registration,” Mr Akkamparambil said.

Elizabeth Dominic, a fellow migrant, said she was facing a similar challenge.

She arrived in Australia over 10 years ago and works as a nursing assistant.

“I have been in Australia for more than 10 years and (have been) unable to get nursing registration due to (the) English language test requirement,” Ms Dominic said.

“My workplace has offered to give all the support for getting nursing registration. They also offered to give a letter as a supporting document to submit to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

“But I don’t think AHPRA would accept a letter from the employer as a substitute for the language requirement.

“I tried to get an exemption for five years of continuous study in Australia. But as there was a six-month gap, that was not accepted by AHPRA.”

Both Mr Akkamparambil and Ms Dominic said they had taken either the IELTS or PTE tests multiple times but had failed to get the required scores.

Ms Dominic said she failed to get the required band in all components in one go.

“When I get the required score in one component, for example in speaking, I might not get the required score in another component of the test,” she said.

Abraham Joby, who lives in Brisbane and is a citizen of both Australia and the UK, is required to show proficiency in the English language by taking a test.

“I have lived in Australia for over 13 years and I have not heard any complaints about my communication skills in the workplace,” Mr Joby said.

“Nursing-related studies and work-related submissions were all done in English and there has been only positive feedback for me. I do not understand why I have to take the English test.”

Relaxation of English test time frame in the UK

Recent changes in the UK around the English requirement for nurses had given him hope, Mr Joby said.

Those changes, introduced by the UK’s Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) in 2017, apply to the IELTS test requirements for nurses and midwives coming on to the register from overseas and within the European economic area.

“These changes will increase flexibility for applicants while ensuring that the appropriate standard of English language is still achieved,” the NMC said.

Under the previous system, applicants were required to achieve the IELTS Academic Test Level 7 in reading, writing, speaking and listening in a single sitting.

Under the new protocols, the NMC still requires applicants to achieve Level 7 in all areas, but this can now be achieved over two sittings of the tests sat within six months of each other.

“A nine-month campaign around (the) English language requirement for nursing registration has resulted in changes to the score requirement in the UK – we hope such a change would happen here,” Mr Joby said.

Many candidates facing the same challenges as Mr Akkamparambil and Ms Dominic are campaigning for a relaxation of the rules around the language test for applicants who have several years of work experience in Australia.

Source: SBS Malayalam