New Directions in the History of Nursing: International Perspectives

By Barbara Mortimer; Susan McGann | Go to book overview

9

'In England we did nursing'

Caribbean and British nurses in Great Britain and Canada, 1950-70

Margaret Shkimba and Karen Flynn

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the supply of trained nurses available for work fell far short of the demand for their services. This shortage can be attributed to various influences; however, an increased demand in industrializing countries for institutional nurses, high occupational attrition and competition for women labourers from other, more attractive, occupations were prominent causal factors. Owing to the nursing shortage, efforts to induce young women into the profession were pursued through many channels and in many countries. This proved beneficial for thousands of young women by offering to them the opportunity to enter into a career that provided them with a skilled education, certain employment and the chance to travel to countries around the world. Both Canada and the UK experienced chronic shortages in their nursing workforce and for both countries part of the solution appeared in the form of immigrant nursing labour; nurses went in sizeable numbers from the Caribbean to the UK, and from the Caribbean and the UK to Canada.

This chapter seeks to chart the migration experiences of young black Caribbean and white British women who trained in the UK and who subsequently emigrated as nurses to Canada. Through our separate research, we sought answers to similar questions. Why choose nursing as an occupation? What was the impetus behind migration? And for Caribbean nurses, why Britain and then Canada? We were especially interested in the immigrant nurses' perceptions of the professional transition, and in what strategies these nurses used to cope with their new country and working environment.

This study is based on oral interviews with nurses who emigrated to Canada from the Caribbean and the UK after the Second World War, between 1950 and 1970. Many of the nurses interviewed lived in southern Ontario, an area that hosts the largest urban population in Canada. For this study, the interviews of ten black Caribbean-born and twelve white British-born nurses are used. 1 The interviews were conducted between 1995 and 2002, at which time the subjects had an age range of between sixty and eighty-five. This research provides insight into the migration process as experienced by black and white, professional, young women. What is seen are the nuances of both inter- and intra-race relations, particularly as applicable to gender (young women) and occupation (nurses). The following

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