Spotlight on equality of employment opportunities: a qualitative study of job seeking experiences of graduating nurses and physiotherapists from black and minority ethnic backgrounds

John Hammond, Sylvie Marshall-Lucette, Nigel Davies, Fiona Ross, Ruth Harris

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Background: There is growing attention in the UK and internationally to the representation of black and minority ethnic groups in healthcare education and the workplace. Although the NHS workforce is very diverse, ethnic minorities are unevenly spread across occupations, and considerably underrepresented in senior positions. Previous research has highlighted that this inequality also exists at junior levels with newly qualified nurses from non-White/British ethnic groups being less likely to get a job at graduation than their White/British colleagues. Although there is better national data on the scale of inequalities in the healthcare workforce, there is a gap in our understanding about the experience of job seeking, and the factors that influence disadvantage in nursing and other professions such as physiotherapy.
Aim: This qualitative study seeks to fill that gap and explores the experience of student nurses (n=12) and physiotherapists (n=6) throughout their education and during the first 6-months post qualification to identify key experiences and milestones relating to successful employment particularly focusing on the perspectives from different ethnic groups.
Participants: Participants were purposively sampled from one university to ensure diversity in ethnic group, age and gender.
Methods: Using a phenomenological approach, in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted at course completion and 6 months later.
Results: Two main themes were identified. The ‘proactive self’ (‘It’s up to me’) theme included perceptions of employment success being due to student proactivity and resilience; qualities valued by employers. The second theme described the need to ‘fit in’ with organisational culture. Graduates described accommodating strategies where they modified aspects of their identity (clothing, cultural markers) to fit in. At one extreme, rather than fitting in, participants from minority ethnic backgrounds avoided applying to certain hospitals due to perceptions of discriminatory cultures, ‘I wouldn’t apply there ‘cos you know, it’s not really an ethnic hospital’. In contrast, some participants recognised that other graduates (usually white) did not need to change and aspects of their identity brought unsolicited rewards 'if your face fits then the barriers are reduced'.
Conclusions: The findings indicate that success in getting work is perceived as determined by individual factors, and fitting in is enabled by strategies adopted by the individual rather than the workplace. Demands for change are more acute for graduates from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. This is an issue for healthcare organisations seeking to be inclusive and challenges employers and educators to acknowledge inequalities and take action to address them.

Keywords: ethnicity; employability; nurses; physiotherapists; job seeking activities; equality of employment
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-180
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Early online date1 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017


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