Jinju James, Lead Nurse for International Nurse Registration and Chair of the Nursing and Midwifery Race Equality Network shares her story for South Asian Heritage Month 2023.

“I initially started working at the Trust in 2013 for a couple of years before moving on to other hospitals and sectors. I then returned in 2018 as the lead nurse for international nurse registration. My role is trust-wide and I am part of the Nursing Director’s Education team in Corporate Education. Me and my team lead and support the training, registration, and pastoral care involved in the transition of internationally educated nurses to UK registered nurses. 

As an internationally educated nurse myself, my first job was in the community in the British countryside, which was so different from the one I read about in books and initially, it was a struggle. Being a woman from a South Asian background in the region brought additional challenges. There was a lack of awareness about South Asian culture and while some of the misconceptions were humorous and light-hearted, some were blatantly racist. Comments such as how well I spoke English for someone from a developing country with ’not enough good schools’, or women in India not being allowed to have an education, along with my marriage being arranged and when was I planning to go back home permanently, were some examples. Moving to London from the countryside was one of the best decisions I made as people were less shocked to see me and more accepting.

However, India meant one thing to most people I met in London – Chicken Tikka Masala and Bollywood. As a person from Kerala, on the south-west coast of India, Chicken Tikka Masala was as exotic to me as cottage pie, although Bollywood and cricket were more familiar. Due to the vastness of the Indian subcontinent and the multiple languages and dialects, each state feels like a country in itself with its own unique food, culture, clothing and language. While the northern states speak and understand Hindi, it’s more complex in the South. Four entirely different languages are spoken in the southern part of India and even have separate film industries. This means our celebrations are also unique. Onam is a local harvest festival of Kerala. It is a celebration of spring and coming together as a family, and last year I had the opportunity to celebrate Onam with the international nurses who recently joined the Trust.

The NHS, as one of the most diverse employers, still has a lack of representation at the top. There were not enough diverse role models ten years ago and it is much the same now, although I have been fortunate to get support and guidance from senior colleagues both internally and externally in the recent past. This has shown me how important good mentorship is and how every workplace should have intelligent systems to identify good talent and to nurture it. I am hopeful about the future for our current internationally educated nurses as there are more systems in place to support them. I am also aiming to change the lack of diverse role models and provide a touch of home as well as inspiration to our international nurses.  I believe in the goodness of humanity despite all the differences around us, and the camaraderie and friendship I currently enjoy in both my roles shows how much those around me want to make a difference in the lives of our colleagues and the patients we serve.

 While in India, I never valued any traditions or culture as it was very much embedded in the everyday activities, however, moving to the UK has made me realise the importance of accepting and celebrating diversity and being inclusive. Someone could look different to you, talk a different language, could be of a different sexual orientation but, at the end of the day, people are people and we all want to be accepted, loved, and celebrated for who we are because there are more things uniting us than dividing us.”