Two Finnish universities of applied sciences are to begin pilot programmes aimed at helping foreign nursing students secure employment in Finland once their studies are completed.
Metropolia University in Helsinki and Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) will trial a new study model from January next year, which will include more Finnish language classes as well as a greater emphasis on language acquisition in theory courses and work placements.
Finland needs an estimated 30,000 new nurses over the next decade to care for an ageing population, especially as some 13,000 nurses are expected to retire during the 2020s. More than half of Finland's municipalities have already reported problems in recruiting enough nurses and healthcare workers, especially for elderly care.
Finnish authorities therefore hope the shortfall can be made up by attracting nurses and nursing students from abroad. There are already foreign nursing students in Finland, but institutions were unable to provide
The requisite Finnish language skills often prove to be an obstacle, especially when candidates sit their exams to acquire a nursing license.
"We are prepared to start from scratch," said Mari Touronen, a lecturer in Finnish language and communication at TAMK.
Some 28 nurses are expected to graduate from the first group studying under the pilot model, and it is hoped they will be able to work in Finnish three and a half years after beginning their training.
"From previous experience, I can say that written knowledge of the Finnish language is challenging. Mistakes are not to be feared, they are also made by Finnish speakers," Touronen said.
Work placement experience "very positive"
There are already a number of healthcare professionals with an immigrant background within the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, and Metropolia University of Applied Sciences project manager Päivi Rimpioja estimates that about five percent are students.
Rimpioja has taught English-speaking students from more than 30 countries during her career, and said the experiences of work placements were often very positive.
"Many patients liked the immigrant nurses because they are very respectful towards older people, for example," she said, adding that command of the Finnish language does not need to be perfect if the caregiver's attitude is right.
Anne Mäenpää, a senior lecturer at TAMK, said that the intention is to get 75 percent of immigrant nurses to stay in Finland after graduation.
The better the language skills, the better chance the student has of finding work in Finland, she added.
"Finland cannot afford to lose these workers. It would be important for immigrants to be employed and stay here as well," Mäenpää said, adding that the pilot schemes being set up by TAMK and Metropolia are part of a government initiative, with plans to roll it out nationwide.
"Currently, there are thousands of nursing jobs open. The shortage of nurses is already very real, in the future it will be even more substantial," Mäenpää said.