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Bhutanese Nurses Share Tales of Triumphs and Trials Abroad

โ€ฆ๐‘ท๐’†๐’“๐’”๐’๐’๐’‚๐’ ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’‡๐’†๐’”๐’”๐’Š๐’๐’๐’‚๐’ ๐’„๐’‰๐’‚๐’๐’๐’†๐’๐’ˆ๐’†๐’” ๐’…๐’“๐’Š๐’—๐’† ๐‘ฉ๐’‰๐’–๐’•๐’‚๐’๐’†๐’”๐’† ๐’‰๐’†๐’‚๐’๐’•๐’‰๐’„๐’‚๐’“๐’† ๐’˜๐’๐’“๐’Œ๐’†๐’“๐’” ๐’•๐’ ๐’๐’†๐’‚๐’—๐’† ๐’‚๐’…๐’—๐’‚๐’๐’„๐’†๐’… ๐’‡๐’๐’“๐’†๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’ ๐’”๐’š๐’”๐’•๐’†๐’Ž๐’”, ๐’”๐’†๐’†๐’Œ๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’‡๐’–๐’๐’‡๐’Š๐’๐’๐’Ž๐’†๐’๐’• ๐’‚๐’๐’… ๐’๐’‘๐’‘๐’๐’“๐’•๐’–๐’๐’Š๐’•๐’Š๐’†๐’” ๐’ƒ๐’‚๐’„๐’Œ ๐’Š๐’ ๐’•๐’‰๐’†๐’Š๐’“ ๐’‰๐’๐’Ž๐’†๐’๐’‚๐’๐’….

Krishna Kumar Sanyasi

The return of Bhutanese nurses from abroad, especially from Singapore, has recently sparked a noticeable trend. This decision to leave advanced healthcare systems and return to their homeland can be attributed to various factors, including personal and professional motivations. From the desire to be closer to family and loved ones to the evolving healthcare landscape in Bhutan, there are multiple reasons behind this significant migration.

According to an official health worker from Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) who has been working as a nurse since 2005, “I got the opportunity to go to Singapore with my wife, and we thought we would work and earn a good amount as well as get some exposure abroad. However, my expectations collapsed when I started to work there.โ€ He added, “The working culture is very different from Bhutan; I had a very hard time adapting to it. We have the same shift-wise system; the morning and evening shifts are nine hours, and here in Bhutan, these shifts are just seven hours. It is not like working here in Bhutan; here we have free time, and in the meantime, we can take turns and rest, but this system is not there in Singapore. The night shift consists of 12 hours, which was a nightmare for me, affecting me mentally and physically. Working in Bhutan is heavenly.”

Moreover, he highlighted the primary reason why he came back, “The pay is just normal compared to the living standard there; I couldn’t save anything; instead, I was at a loss, but I am taking this as a lesson and moving forward in life. I was briefed before regarding the pay structure. I felt I could save a good amount, but things don’t work according to our will. I was paid SGD 1390 plus SGD 500 as housing allowance, but I was paying rent of SGD 900. And in terms of housing, it depends on the owner. In the place where I was staying with my wife, we were not allowed to cook since we were staying with other Bhutanese along with the house owner.โ€

โ€œFood being very essential, to eat a decent meal, it costs 8 dollars, and we have to eat 3 meals a day; 8×3 = 24 dollars a day, and there are 30 days in a month. I find it very challenging in terms of money. I went to Singapore thinking I would make good money, but it didn’t work that way,โ€ he shared.

He further added that the country is very advanced in technology. “We have to do almost everything by tech, and learning those equipment and apps was equivalent to learning a new language. I have received assistance from my senior peers, but I wonder how long they will continue to provide guidance in a manner that feels overly protective. These are the major reasons why I came back, and if I may say something more, I have this hard truth message for young graduates who are looking forward to going and working in Singapore or anywhere in the world: firstly, get experience in the field by working in the country for maybe one to two years, know about the work, adapt it, and then maybe for exposure you may go; otherwise, our government is paying a good amount for health workers.”

A healthcare professional from JDWNRH who embarked on a two-year contract in Singapore expressed, “My decision was initially swayed by the experience of my junior colleague, who had ventured to Singapore in 2019.” As I was his mentor, he encouraged me to come over to Singapore, if at all I was interested. He talked about salary, double bonuses, and performance bonuses, as he had good faith in me and my capabilities. Upon his recommendation, I applied to the employer, attended the interview, and got selected for the good post of staff nurse.”

He said, “Usually, a staff nurse is not given to any foreigner coming to Singapore, but since I am a BSc Nurse with 5 years of experience in a district hospital and 5 years of experience in an apex hospital with 1 plus experience as Ward In-charge, I was given the wonderful position with a good salary package as compared to my colleagues who went before and after me. I was given a 2-year contract bond. Despite the high salary, the cost of living in Singapore is very high, especially the rent. It’s equivalent to paying Nu. 54,000 for a single room. Since we live with the owner, we are not allowed to cook and must eat out. Each meal costs about SGD 6 to 8. Sometimes, when we are busy with work and do overtime, we get home late, and by then the shops are closed, forcing us to go to bed on an empty stomach. Many times, I’ve had to sleep without eating since we’re not allowed to cook.”

“Despite having 10 years of experience in the health sector, working in Singapore was stressful. Balancing professional and personal life proved to be quite challenging. Perhaps because of this situation, I suffered from various health issues and even became emotionally vulnerable,” he added.

He continued, โ€œThe working culture in Singapore is very different from what I had expected. The people are mostly workaholics and goal-oriented, adhering strictly to their schedules, making adaptation difficult. As an advanced country, most work is carried out through advanced technology and application, and learning this was quite challenging for newcomers. Furthermore, the working hours are quite different from those in Bhutan. One must arrive 30 minutes early to familiarize oneself with the case at hand and leave 30 minutes late to brief the next shift.โ€

He further added, “Due to my 10 years of experience, I was offered a better position as a staff nurse, where I could receive a good salary package. Even then, it was quite challenging for me to sustain myself and save money. However, those Bhutanese who have less experience or are coming directly after graduation are enrolled as Health Care Assistants (HCA), Personal Care Assistants (PCA), and Enrolled Nurses. Their lives might be even more challenging than mine, as they are paid less compared to me.”

“In my personal opinion, I feel blessed that I went to Singapore and got the opportunity to learn. We used to get training every three months where we could upgrade our skills and enhance our knowledge. I would suggest to my fellow Bhutanese that if they want to learn and get exposure, they must go once and experience it,โ€ he added.

One of the Bhutanese health workers who is currently working in Singapore said, “There are many reasons why many of us (nurses) came to Singapore. It was all influenced when the nurses in Bhutan were paid on average; the nursing career in Singapore was among the better options available from which we could explore and upgrade the essential skills and practices required for our profession. But the best reason was the monetary benefits, which made nurses come here.”

She said, “But if I share about the sustainability and earnings here, it’s very challenging for many of our Bhutanese living here in Singapore, including the high standard of living given that the average capita per native Singaporean is way higher than that of those foreigners because of which the accessibility to basic needs becomes very high. Other factors could be inflation and the rising population in the region.”

“Many nurses decided to end their contract, while others were on the verge of ending it and going back to Bhutan because they saw opportunities back in the country. While some see Australia easier than Singapore,” she added.
She further added, “Amid all these difficulties, I am thriving here because I feel the struggles and hardships are common once you have stepped out of your comfort zone. Since we sacrificed a lot of things, why don’t we put in a little more effort and adjust here so that I’ll have the strength to overcome challenges and will also get equipped with what I came here for?”

As Bhutan welcomes back its nurses from abroad, the stories shared by these healthcare professionals shed light on a complex interplay of factors influencing their decisions to return. The experiences of Bhutanese nurses working in advanced healthcare systems, such as Singapore’s, reveal a stark contrast between high expectations and the harsh realities of stringent work cultures, challenging adaptation processes, and the high cost of living. Despite the allure of professional growth and financial incentives, the personal and professional sacrifices often outweigh the perceived benefits, prompting many to reconsider their overseas ventures.

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