Celebrating National #NursingWeek: Miriam Mahlahla on facing and overcoming adversity as an immigrant nurse

This National Nursing Week, we want to recognize the nurses who have come to Canada from across the globe to support the many sectors in healthcare. In highlighting some stories about internationally educated nurses (IENs), we get a glimpse of both the hardships and successes in their journeys.

Originally from Zimbabwe, Miriam Mahlahla came to Canada in January 2008 after she was recruited by Vancouver Coastal Health. She had done her training back in Zimbabwe at the Harare Central Hospital in 1988, where she worked in various departments like gynecology, orthopedics, medicine, surgery and emergency.

Because there were “[struggles with] competing demands,” Miriam recalls, “nurses had to fill in some of the medical roles, which often resulted in us overworking.”

Such troubles prompted her to move and further her nursing studies in London, UK, prior to her move to Canada. In London, she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Adult Oncology from the University of Manchester. She then worked in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at the Royal Marsden Hospital until 2008.

But in moving to western countries like the UK and Canada, she encountered new kinds of challenges. In Canada, she couldn’t immediately practice as a Registered Nurse (RN) and was met with discrimination as an ethnic minority.

“Due to [my] ethnic background, I felt seen as inferior,” says Miriam. She describes “racial discrimination, lack of support and feelings of exclusion” as one of the many aspects that have made her role as a nurse even more difficult.

But what has helped Miriam overcome adversity was counselling and her prevailing passion for nursing.

From 2008 until April of this year, Miriam worked as an RN in the Hematology Apheresis Unit at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) and was awarded the Best Apheresis Nurse of the Year from the Canadian Apheresis Group.

After 14 years as a nurse at VGH, she now works both as a Client Care Coordinator with Fraser Health Authority and as a Clinical Nurse Educator with Vancouver Coastal Health. In taking the lead in these roles, she hopes to use her past experiences to help other migrant nurses overcome racial barriers and succeed in their own work.

“Sharing knowledge and teaching nurses are my passions,” states Miriam, “I am hoping to make more masters from the nurses I teach — that’s my goal.”

We thank Miriam for sharing her story and for paving the way for other IENs to triumph in Canada.