Is English Language Background an Indicator of Success in the English Tests Required for Nursing Registration in Australia?
International Journal of Arts & Sciences, 07(05):539-570, 2014
31 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2016
Date Written: 2014
For health professionals, English language proficiency has increasingly been identified as important to public safety by Australian regulatory authorities. The purpose of English language testing is to evaluate the effectiveness of communicating in a nursing setting. The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) (2010) outlines the current assessment requirements for nurses from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB) are to attain either an overall band score of 7 in each of the four components (Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking) of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) (give reference) or a band score of A or B in each of the same four components of the Occupational English Test (OET) (give reference). Either the OET or IELTS must be re-sat in full until the applicant achieves at least the minimum score for all sections in one sitting.
The appropriateness of the administration of the current testing process for the purpose of fitness for nursing registration in Australia has not been examined. Additionally, the adoption of the required scores for these tests as English language skills registration standards by the NMBA appears arbitrary. Many nurse registering authorities have demonstrated concerns regarding English language testing with the academic nature of these tests being identified as a barrier to registration for these nurses in Australia (O’Connor 2008; Walters 2008; Deegan and Simkin 2010). Kingma (2001 p.212) states that ‘language was reported to be a significant barrier to nurse migration’ in the international recruitment of nurses to fill nursing shortages in the UK, USA and Australia (Kingma 2001). The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) in the United States sought to develop a nursing specific IELTS standard that would be legally defensible (O’Neill et al. 2007). A passing standard is a reflection of the values of those professionals who participate in establishing what they determine as an appropriate score, and these sets of values can be quite diverse so “ultimately, the passing standard established by a policy-making body is a judgment-based decision” (O’Neill et al. 2007 p.5). To demonstrate this point, O’Neill et al. (2007 p.19) collated the various passing standards in other English speaking countries and identified that Australia and New Zealand have adopted a higher IELTS passing standard for NESB nurse registration than other English speaking countries. Differences in such policies become more significant as the flow of nurses between countries increases. The Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks (CCLB 2004) conducted a multi-phase project, Benchmarking the Nursing Profession across Canada which investigated how the language proficiency of nurses is measured for registration and then designed a nursing specific test, the Canadian English Language Benchmark Assessment for Nurses (CELBAN). The CELBAN is similar in its conception to the OET except with the advantage that it is entirely nursing specific whereas the OET is only nursing specific in speaking and writing modules, with the reading and listening modules applying to all the medical professions. Qualitative studies have found some nurses with strong English language backgrounds who have been unable to get the scores required in the OET or IELTS for registration in Australia (Walters 2008; Hawthorne 2001). The current study aims to investigate the appropriateness of the administration of the current English language testing process for the purpose of determining fitness for nursing registration in Australia.
The main objective of this study is to further understand the issue of the relatively unexplored area of English language testing requirements for registration of migrant nurses and whether there are any predictors for success, such as English language background, in achieving the scores required. This research project aimed to answer the following questions about non-English speaking background (NESB) nurses attempting to meet the English language requirements of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) for nursing registration in Australia: Is there an association between demographic characteristics and test success? What is the relationship between English language background and test success? What is the relationship between education and work experience of participants and test success? How did successful candidates perceive their experiences with the English tests?
Keywords: Registered nurse, Foreign nurse, Migrant, Licensed nurse, Nursing board, nursing registration, Australian nurses
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