The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
Today’s subject on Abroad Life is a 26-year-old woman who moved to the UK four months ago because she didn’t feel safe being a nurse in Nigeria. She talks about realising that Nigeria doesn’t care about its healthcare workers during the pandemic and getting a UK nursing job from the comfort of her home.
When did you decide that you wanted to leave Nigeria?
2020. The Covid pandemic made me realise that the Nigerian government doesn’t care about the country’s healthcare workers.
I graduated from nursing school in 2015 and got a job as a bedside nurse. My salary was ₦10,000. Between 2015 and 2017, it increased to ₦30,000. What’s crazy is my nursing school fees were over ₦500,000 per year.
In 2017, I got a different job in research that paid ₦160,000. I stayed at the job until 2020.
Is this typical for nurses in Nigeria?
In Nigeria, when you finish your nursing degree, you get a job at a private hospital while waiting for openings at government hospitals. That’s what many people do. The private hospital phase isn’t great. They don’t pay well. My parents had the connections to land me a government hospital job, but I didn’t want it. The stress would have been too much because the working conditions in Nigerian public hospitals aren’t great.
The fact that being a medical professional in Nigeria isn’t great is one of the biggest reasons there’s a mass exodus of doctors and nurses from the country.
What are the other reasons?
I grew up in Ibadan. It was a safe city until recently when kidnappings and other forms of unsafety started. Why would I choose to live in a country where I’m not getting paid well, I’m not safe at my job, and I’m not even safe on the streets? I knew all of this but chose to stay because if everyone left, who would work in the Nigerian healthcare sector? But 2020 changed my mind.
What happened in 2020?
I was working from home as a research analyst, but when I spoke with my friends who worked in the frontlines, they told me about how terrible the working situation was. They were not given proper protective gear, they were not paid well, and they were not treated well even in the face of a pandemic that was rapidly killing people. If you died, someone would replace you.
Though I wasn’t working in the frontlines, I didn’t feel safe working in Nigeria as a nurse anymore. So in March 2020, I decided to leave.
Why did you choose the UK?
I had two choices — the US or the UK. I chose the UK because I’d heard that the NCLEX — the exam I would have to take to qualify to be a nurse in the US — was difficult.
What was the process of moving to the UK like?
First of all, I wrote and passed my IELTS. Then I had to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council of the United Kingdom online. Once that was completed, I sent my application through the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria (NMCN). It’s when the NMCN certifies you as a nurse to the UK’s council that you can apply for the exam.
The exam was in two phases: a computer based test in Nigeria and a practical exam in the UK. After you pass your CBT, you can apply for jobs. I applied for four jobs and three people got back to me for an interview. Then I picked one and left. My employer paid for my visa application, flight ticket and accommodation for three months.
I started the application process in March 2020 and got here in March 2021. The pandemic made it longer than it would have been, but it was easy. I did most of the applications from the comfort of my home.
I’m curious, how much did this process cost?
Apart from the IELTS money, it cost ₦717,500. I only had to pay for the exam, which was about ₦700,000 and my NMCN application, which cost ₦17,500. The price for the exam is probably higher in naira now because of the exchange rate.
Oh, and because I didn’t want to die on the waiting list at the NMCN, I paid a man ₦20,000 to fast-track my application.
Wow. What were your expectations of the UK?
I went in spring, so I expected the weather to be friendly. Omo, it was freezing. On some nights, it was -3°C. For the first 10 days, I had to quarantine in an apartment with three other nurses that came from other countries like me. After that, I moved to the hospital’s apartments where I stayed for free for three months. When my free months expired, I didn’t want to look for a different apartment, so I told them I’d pay to keep staying there and they agreed. I’m lucky because the apartment is nice and about £100 cheaper than what I would typically pay for something like this.
Nice. Do you mind sharing how much you currently earn?
I make at least £2000 every month. Right now, I’m a band 5 nurse because I just started working in the UK. Even if I had a PhD, I would still be a band 5 nurse. Over time, I’ll earn promotions and go higher.
In months where I work night shifts, weekends, and holidays, I earn more. It’s a good start. It’s enough to feed myself and fund my slowly dying baby girl lifestyle.
Why is it dying?
I keep making plans with my girlfriends, but we never actually do those plans. After my first few shifts, I imagined what it would be like to go home to a husband who wanted to gist after a long day at work. I would tell that husband to go and look for someone else to gist with because I was so tired. Things later balanced out, but I began to wonder if I actually could get married with this job.
If I’m reconsidering marriage, imagine what I think about being a baby girl and going out to have fun. It’s impossible. Once I’m not on duty, grocery shopping or at the gym, I’m on my bed.
How do you socialise?
The only friends I have are the ones I made at work. We prepared for the exams together, so we bonded. Apart from them, I try to mind my own business. UK culture is very big on minding your own business. The only time I interact with random people is when their dogs randomly run up to me on the streets and start playing with me.
What do you miss the most about Nigeria?
The food. When I was coming to the UK, I was allowed two 24 kg boxes and one 10 kg box. All my clothes and shoes fit in the 10 kg box, and I filled the two 24 kg boxes with food.
Yep. I brought 48 kg of food to the UK — elubo, ponmo, fish, everything. The stuff I came with is almost finished, so I spend a lot of time looking for African food. I bought a box of pizza a few weeks ago, ate one slice and threw the rest away. It was terrible. I’ve had so many different kinds of bread and none of them are sweet. It’s like they don’t put sugar in them. I’ve also run out of ponmo and have been looking for anyone who sells ponmo around me. I really miss Nigerian food.
Do you think you’ll ever return to Nigeria?
With the way things are going, I’d only return to visit. If things get better, I’d consider returning.
Hey there! My name is David and I’m the writer of Abroad Life. If you’re a Nigerian and you live or have lived abroad, I would love to talk to you about what that experience feels like and feature you on Abroad Life. All you need to do is fill out this short form, and I’ll be in contact.