Barriers and facilitators to the professional integration of internationally qualified nurses in Australia: a mixed methods systematic review

Main Article Content

Marcela Correa-Betancour
Kanchan Marcus
Madhan Balasubramanian
Stephanie D Short


Australia, experience, foreign educated nurses, internationally qualified nurses, intra-professional cultural competence, professional integration, systematic review


Objective: This review aimed to better understand barriers to and facilitators of the professional integration of internationally qualified nurses (IQNs) in Australia.

Background: Nursing shortages are a critical global issue, including developed countries such as Australia, where about 20% of the nursing workforce has been trained overseas. IQNs face many challenges associated with the migration process itself; and their professional integration is crucial in retaining them in the workforce and in maintaining the quality of nursing care in Australia.

Study design and methods: This review followed the JBI methodology for mixed methods systematic review. Web of Sciences, Scopus, Informit, ProQuest, Ovid, and Cinahl databases were searched from inception. Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods original studies, published in English, were considered. Screening, data extraction and quality assessment were conducted independently by two reviewers. The assessment of methodological quality used the JBI Qualitative Checklist and Checklist for Analytical Cross-Sectional studies, and the data were extracted using the JBI data extraction tool. Disagreements were resolved by a third researcher and the synthesis used a convergent integrated approach.

Results: From an initial 110 studies, eight studies were included. Individual and social factors emerged as the main themes. The first theme was analysed in terms of two sub-themes: psychological adaptation plus communication and language. Social factors were analysed in terms of three sub-themes: a) cultural differences in the nursing role; b) support, mentoring and appreciation and c) discrimination and racism.

Discussion: psychological adaptation and language proficiency are linked to personal factors. Cultural differences in the nursing role should be addressed with strong support and mentoring programs. Recognition of previous experience and appreciation of pre-existing skills are important facilitators. Discriminatory and racist behaviours continue in the work setting, yet are rarely reported.

Conclusion: Discrimination and racism from colleagues, co-workers, and patients should be addressed with a more direct approach than is currently in place. Training of locally and internationally qualified nurses in intraprofessional cultural competence may improve interaction and communication, reduce racism and discriminatory practices, and increase quality of care. 

Implications for research, policy, and practice: This research may be of interest to policy makers, healthcare educators, healthcare workforce planners and healthcare institutions. This study contributes to our understanding of the phenomena of nurse migration, retention, and professional integration, especially in high income countries. It is also a call to address the persistence of discriminatory and racist practices in the Australian context, as well as the education in intraprofessional cultural competence of some local nurses who work with IQNs.

What is already known about the topic?

  • High-income countries like Australia rely on the attraction and retention of IQNs to meet their health outcomes.

  • Personal characteristics, language proficiency, support and mentoring programs are strong facilitators for IQNs’ professional integration.

  • The persistence of discriminatory and racist practices are barriers to integration of IQNs in Australia.

What this paper adds:

  • In Australia discrimination and racism continue to be dominant barriers to IQNs’ professional integration.

  • It is crucial to improve the reporting of situations involving discrimination and racism and discuss further consequences for patients, visitors, and co-workers.

  • It is essential to promote training programs in intraprofessional cultural competence, and to focus on working with IQNs, as well as caring for patients from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

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