Greek nurse Foteini Kourakou can now work as a qualified intensive-care nurse in the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) after the regulator relaxed a language test she was forced to take.
Before that, the 28-year-old had been forced to work as a care assistant in Northern Ireland after repeatedly failing a difficult language test required by the NHS, despite the fact her English is excellent.
Belfast’s Irish News daily reports that Kourakou is now the first person in Northern Ireland to have sat the new exam which was officially recognized by Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).
Kourakou, who is a graduate of the University of Athens and has a background in ICU nursing, was working in a County Antrim care home. She was drastically overqualified for such a post but supposedly lacked language skills.
The difficult IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam has kept many nursing applicants away from jobs in the short-staffed NHS.
Kourakou told The Irish News she had spent almost £2,000 ($2,660) on exam fees and tutoring – but failed the IELTS test eight times. She claims that even though she did very well in the written and oral parts, she was failing in essay writing as the subjects she had to write about were unrelated to her job.
Because of the outcry created due to the shortages in nursing staff, an English-born health trust chief took the IELTS exam as an experiment and failed it, The Irish News reports.
The NMC professional body announced last year that it would recognize the Occupation English Test (OET) for European nurses wanting to work in the NHS.
The Greek nurse travelled to Dublin in January to take the £400 exam as it is not available in Northern Ireland.
“It was equally as difficult as the IELTS but the big difference was that the writing element was specific to nursing. I was asked to write an essay in which they gave me a situation about a patient and I had to do a referral letter,” she told The Irish News.
“Referrals are something I will be doing throughout my career so it is completely relevant. In the previous exams I was asked to write about more abstract things such as parenting classes for children,” she added.
It took Kourakou seven weeks to receive the test results and then she had to go through a lengthy registration process. As soon as she was registered, she began working as a nurse in the same care home for adults with learning disabilities a fortnight ago.
“It has made a massive difference professionally and also financially. I am able to do the work I was trained to do,” she said.