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donna harrison nurse UK australia
How a practice nurse emigrated from UK to Australia

Donna Harrison was a practice nurse in the UK who emigrated to Australia and changed her life for the better.

She now works as the head practice nurse for Australia Health Alliance, a healthcare business that owns two GP clinics in Adelaide’s southern suburbs. 

She even has a seat on the AHA board.

Donna moved to Adelaide from the midlands town of Tamworth in 2011 with her husband and three children, then aged 19,16 and eight.

She had worked there for 15 years as a primary healthcare nurse.

She told her story on the Living The Australian Dream podcast.

Pondering a move down under

Donna said she strongly pushed the idea to uproot her family and move to Australia.

“We had thought about immigration for quite a long time,” she said.

“My husband wasn’t overly keen on the idea, it was me driving that.

“Over a period of time in the UK, things weren’t great and he did start to think maybe a move to Australia was the best option for us.

“We both had quite good jobs and were very settled.

“We had a home and final salary pensions which made it more difficult to make the decision to move.”

But Donna said a better life for her children was what crystallised their decision.

“It was more about the family and opportunities for our children when we emigrated. 

“What would their future look like in Australia compared to the UK and could we offer a better future for them?

“And of course the pull of the Australian weather versus the UK rain in winter always just held that little bit of something for us.”

Why choose Adelaide?

Donna and husband were quite methodical but also clinical when deciding where in Australia they wanted to live.

“Once we decided to put in an application, we looked at a map of Australia and in about 10 minutes we picked Adelaide,” she said.

“Looking at the map, would we go to Sydney? No we don’t live in London in the UK, big city, major city not for us.

“What about up north? Darwin? Too many crocodiles there thank you very much.

“What about Queensland? It’s very wet and crocodiles and stingers there, no daylight savings, we won’t bother with that one. 

“What about Melbourne? It’s a bit wet in Melbourne. The weather’s not that great, three seasons in one day, so that was quickly put to one side.

“Canberra? Inland, no sea.

“Perth? We really liked Perth but Perth was too far from anywhere if the children ever moved out of Perth. It was a long way to go and costly to see them. So that left Adelaide. 

“Adelaide’s got a mediterranean climate, it’s got some of the cheapest housing in Australia, it’s got lots of parklands so literally it was a 10-minute conversation and we chose Adelaide.”

Pros and cons of moving

Donna and her husband considered the pros and cons of moving.

The pros were mainly lifestyle related and included:

  • you’re always close to the beaches and the hills
  • better weather
  • family time
  • visiting nice locations like wine regions and beaches

At the time, Donna could really only think of one con which was “starting over again from scratch”.

That led to them putting a back-up plan in place.

“We didn’t have a house, we didn’t have cars or jobs lined up.

“What happened if we came here and fell flat on our face?

“So we decided to rent our house out in the UK rather than sell it so we had somewhere to go back to if we decided it wasn’t for us.”

But when they arrived in Australia, they soon discovered another hidden drawback.

“Our daughter was ready to go to university so we had to go when we did otherwise she would have started university in the UK and then the whole family wouldn’t have ever migrated together. 

“She started uni in Australia which was a challenge because we weren’t eligible for HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme) because even though we were permanent residents, you have to be a citizen.”

HECS allows students to defer payment of their university fees until they are earning an income.

“So that meant we had to fund her uni semester by semester which was more of a financial challenge. It’s all a gamble.”

Arriving in Adelaide

A little planning ahead made life for Donna and her family much easier when they touched down in Adelaide.

“We knew we wanted to live in the south of Adelaide so we looked for a rental.

“The rental market was much easier to access then than it is now. We looked at a house, put in an application and was accepted for that rental. 

“Then we looked at schools from that area. The children started school a couple of weeks later.”

Donna was also very mindful about employment in her forward planning.

“I had made some contacts before we came out so went through what was the division of general practice and made links with practice nurse coordinators. 

“That’s now evolved to be the Adelaide Primary Health Network. 

“I had set up to have a meet and greet once I arrived in Australia and they told me about jobs that were available locally. 

“I applied for one of those, got a practice nurse job and started within two weeks of being in Australia which was a huge relief.”

Unexpected challenges

While Donna quickly found employment, her husband was not as fortunate.

“The plan was he was going to settle the children into school and then start applying for jobs. 

“Once he started applying for jobs, we found it wasn’t that easy for him to get work. 

“UK nurses are highly sought after and as a practice nurse in the UK, I had great skills, was highly qualified and experienced and really was quite in demand when I got to Australia whereas for him, things were different.

“He applied for many jobs, didn’t get those, became despondent and consequently didn’t settle well in Australia so that was our biggest challenge.

“And in all honesty, that took several years.

“We’ve been here 13 years now and he will say it was the best move we’ve made for us as a family.

“But in those early years it was difficult, starting from scratch making new friends trying to find jobs. 

“That was the biggest challenge for us.”

Comparing roles as a practice nurse

There is a significant difference in the roles of a practice nurse between the UK and Australia and it caught Donna by surprise.

“There’s very little autonomy for practice nurses in Australia,” Donna said.

“The whole funded mechanism is set up completely differently to the UK. 

“Practice nurses are really overseen by GPs and GPs have to see every patient to be able to bill and claim funding for seeing that patient.

“So practice nurses don’t make any clinical decisions independently.

“Whereas in the UK, I would see patients, assess them, diagnose and then decide on treatments for that. 

“In Australia, I didn’t have that opportunity and it was quite frustrating for myself who had been in general practice for 15 years in the UK.”

It prompted Donna to look for a new role.

“Fairly quickly, I became a little bit despondent of general practice and was offered a really good opportunity to work in primary healthcare project work.”

She helped deliver those projects across Adelaide for seven years before taking up another challenge.

“I went into “closing the gap” which is working with Aboriginal health which was really interesting.

“I moved on from there to what effectively became an exceptionally well paid office job. 

“However I wasn’t using any of my clinical skills and I missed that patient contact.”

It prompted her husband to suggest she return to her first love and that’s exactly what she did.

Donna resumed work in general practice six years ago and five years ago, joined the Australia Health Alliance.

“I started as the head practice nurse and was working two days a week clinically and two days a week in leadership.

“Over time that has evolved to be a more permanent leadership role.

“I do work clinically, I do cover for sickness and holidays but generally the majority of my time has been spent in leadership. 

“I’ve had great opportunities at AHA. They could see the experience I bought to the role and I was very quickly promoted.

“Now I am on the board of management for the organisation which is really a great achievement for a nurse in Australia.”

Loving life in Australia

Donna, her husband and children, now aged 32, 30 and 21 all consider their move to Australia the best decision they ever made.

“We have all been back to the UK and hand on heart, I can honestly say Australia is the place for us,” she said.

“And that goes for all the children as well.

“They’ve all got great careers and futures ahead of them. They’ve had fantastic opportunities here.”

Even Donna’s husband is now a true blue Aussie.

“He’s been back (to the UK) numerous times and despite not settling initially he absolutely agrees that this is the best place for us to be.

“We’ve got a great lifestyle here, good jobs and feel it was definitely the right move despite being a challenge in the early days.

“Nothing worth fighting for comes easily so the hard work really did pay off.”

Emigration tips

Donna and her family completed all the paperwork themselves when they emigrated.

But she warned it may no longer be as simple.

“We didn’t engage a migration agent at all,” she said.

“It was a fairly straight forward process for us based on the fact that nurses were on the list of people wanted in Australia.

“It was just a matter of following the process. 

“Yes it was time consuming and a little bit complicated but it was more gathering together all of the  information and uploading that through the portals.

“Everything’s changed now. Migration constantly evolves so whether or not it’s that simple nowadays, i’m not so sure. 

“We saved a significant amount of money by just doing it ourselves.”

Contact Health Recruitment Australia today

You may or may not choose to hire a migration agent or lawyer to help facilitate your move to Australia.

But if you are seeking employment in Australia, your most important ally is a professional recruiter that works in the field of health.

Health Recruitment Australia (HRA) is a dedicated recruitment agency that does just that.

It connects doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers of all ages with clinics hiring in Australia.

We have contacts across the country and can expertly connect you with a medical clinic in need.

Many of these clinics are crying out for experienced staff, especially GPs.

We will work closely with you to find the right city, region and practice so you start your career afresh in Australia and benefit from the wonderful lifestyle it offers.

If you are looking to emigrate, we’ll answer all of your questions and take the stress out of your big move to ensure it is as pain-free as possible.

We’ll also take care of that mountain of paperwork so you can hit the ground running in record time.

Why not start with an informal, no-obligation discussion with the experienced team at Health Recruitment Australia? Contact us.

Enquire now, and we’ll be
in touch shortly!


Enquire now, and we’ll be
in touch shortly!