Credit: Daily Herald Archive / National Science & Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

Nurses and doctors arrived with very different levels of experience. Some were already specialists in their field. Others came for postgraduate qualification, or to begin their training from scratch. 

Although many new arrivals had prior knowledge and connections, the experience of arrival was still often a shock. Many intended to come for training and further qualifications and did not intend to stay. Others did not come to the UK with the intention of working in healthcare – but ended up finding roles within the NHS upon arrival.

Expectations vs. reality

When we got here we had white porters to pick up our luggage and that was one of the first shocks. In Guyana, all the white people that we came into contact with spoke like Prince Charles and they were in very high positions.

Lynette Richards-Lorde
Arrived from Guyana (formerly British Guiana) in 1959

Dr Hargundas Khanchandani

"Dad started out working in a hospital in Wales. He was the only Indian in the town, he was obviously the only Indian doctor. For all of his life, he loved Wales."

Arrived from India in 1954

Image courtesy Dr Raj Khanchandani

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Mae Appleton

“We had our own room but we couldn’t sleep because it was very cold. We left the Philippines in the 30s and 40s and we came in here and it was below zero. I was crying because I couldn’t get warm and then I had to wear socks, pyjamas and a hat and gloves in bed.”

Arrived from the Philippines in 1969

© Lee Appleton

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Dr Elif Ezgi

“It’s a completely different system, a completely different culture. Putting aside being a cardiologist I was questioning myself, my abilities, my knowledge, because it’s weird in the beginning. But then I think it made me even stronger, I adapted quite quickly. In a couple of months, I was okay.”

Arrived from Turkey in 2018

© Elif Ezgi

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Ethel Corduff

"I had hardly ever handled a baby but I found I was expected to feed, change, and observe them without orientation. It was July and so very hot. We had to wear masks all the time. The smell of urine and faeces penetrated the mask. I was so homesick, some nights I cried so much I could hardly sleep."

Arrived from Ireland in 1964

© Ethel Corduff

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Mathias Banzi

"I am a refugee from Rwanda. I didn’t know anything about the UK or anyone here. I felt completely isolated. I couldn’t communicate. I used to spend hours at the market, because I couldn’t understand the labels and what I had to buy. I knew I had to adapt myself."

Arrived from Rwanda in 2002

© Mathias Banzi

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International students outside the Royal College of Nursing, 1957 Credit: Nursing Times, image courtesy Royal College of Nursing Archives


Almost all new arrivals had to do additional training in the UK, regardless of whether or not they already had experience. Some had to change course because their qualifications earned overseas weren’t recognised. Others faced barriers because of their nationality or race. For many, the experience was gruelling.

There were horrendous hours. You had to do three split duties and two earlies and two days off. The split duty started at 7.30 in the morning, you would work until 10.30 or 11.00. Then you had a break and you’d come back at 1.00 pm and work until 9pm. I remember my feet were sore and I went and talked to the Sister and she said I should rub my feet with methylated spirits to harden my feet up.

Dr Neslyn Watson-Druée
Arrived from Jamaica in 1969

Nurses training at Royal London Hospital. Courtesy: Hornsey Journal.

Gulzar Waljee

"I went to Matron’s office. She said: 'I had two girls from Tanzania before you and they both failed their final exam. If you fail, I will stop taking girls from Tanzania.' So I worked hard for my exams, as I knew that if I failed, I would jeopardise the future for Tanzanian girls."

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As a student nurse, you were at the bottom of the hierarchy, and that was everybody whether you were black, white, pink or whatever. You knew you were black and an immigrant but this was secondary to the fact that you were in an environment to learn to do something. And that's what you were supposed to concentrate on.

Leila Phillips
Arrived from Guyana (formerly British Guiana) in 1951

Credit: The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, Farnborough Hospital


I was going for a training post in neurosurgery in the UK and I was interviewed by three senior consultant neurosurgeons. All three went very quiet for a minute and they went, ‘You have more experience in trauma neurosurgery than the three of us put together'.

Dr Muhayman Jamil
Arrived from Iraq in 1990

I had adequate training in obstetrics and gynaecology in India but that wasn't recognised here. I had no option to go through the training to be a consultant. I decided to make a career change rather than be a middle grade position in OB GYN. So I started a career in general practice.

Dr Veena Rao
Arrived from India in 1987

I was a radiographer in Saudi Arabia for nine years. In the UK, I tried to apply to be a radiographer, but they said that I’d have to go to university for two years. I couldn't afford tuition fees at the same time as paying my rent. So I decided to stay as a porter.

Petronio Demillo
Arrived from the Philippines in 2003
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