By Taylor Vaughn
Swedish nurses’ decisions to work in Norway are influenced by several factors. The geographic proximity is certainly important, but the flexibility provided by staffing agencies also makes working and having family in different countries possible. Higher wages make the jobs in Norway attractive and may, to a certain extent, alleviate the separation from loved ones.
Many Swedish nurses working in Norway do so through contracts with staffing agencies. Staffing agencies work closely with hospitals and other health care institutions to help them fill vacancies with qualified nurses. Those vacancies may be short-term, to cover positions of employees on parental or sick leave or on holiday, for example, or they may be longer-term.
So far, we have interviewed five Swedish nurses who worked in Norway at some point in their nursing career. All of them had families in Sweden and, for most, their familial obligations (to children or aging parents) and relationships prevented them from settling in Norway permanently, making these short-term positions highly attractive.
Maria said about her work in Norway:
Because I had my family here [in Sweden] I wanted to try it first. I wanted to try it first, I didn’t want to move to Norway. Then you would have to buy an apartment there, or you would have to have somebody there who already rents an apartment to be roommates with, so that’s why I decided to go through an agency.
Maria had previously thought about moving to the US, but her three teenage daughters were not on board, as they had their boyfriends in Sweden. Maria’s children’s desire to stay in Sweden resulted in her canceling her plans for the US. The same would most likely have happened if she had taken a full-time, permanent position in Norway and had to either take her teen daughters with her or leave them behind for an extended period. However, the types of working arrangements staffing agencies were able to ensure provided Maria with the opportunity to come to Norway to work while maintaining her life and family back in Sweden.
She was working for a staffing agency in Sweden before working in Norway and heard about the opportunity through them. They provided her with housing while she worked all over Norway. She worked in various types of health care institutions (hospitals, home care, and nursing homes), but her typical work schedule was to work two weeks in Norway and then work one to two weeks at home in Sweden. Her children were either old enough to temporarily care for themselves at this point or they stayed with their father.
Philip, who only worked on short-term contracts in Norway a few times, also never intended to move to Norway. Even though the staffing agencies allowed him to maintain his family in Sweden while trying out employment in Norway, the time spent away from his family was too much for Philip:
I would like to go there [to Norway] as a tourist. I would like to go visit the country as a tourist now, but I’m not sure if I would like to go there to work because I miss home too much. I miss my family too much.
While Philip’s familial obligations did not include children, his partner, parents, and friends were all in Sweden. He explains how his intentions to never settle in Norway influenced his approach to his time there:
[…] my goal was not to move there. If I had had that goal, then I would have made a lot bigger effort to get to know other people. Now it was just like, “Ok, let’s go for lunch,” or something like that, but that was that. It was nothing more than that. I didn’t have the intention to bond or to connect on a deeper level with other people.
Just as Maria, Philip did not want to put in the necessary effort to move to Norway for a long period. He did not want to leave his life in Sweden and, therefore, had no interest in building any relationships in Norway.
Staffing agency vs. hospital contracts
Another nurse, Robert, worked solely in Norway for nearly a decade while maintaining his home and family life in Sweden:
My last five years, I was employed by [a hospital] outside of Oslo and I had a 60% [employment contract]. So most of the time I worked seven nights, and then had 14 days off. […] I only had like three hours from my door in Sweden to the entrance to the hospital.
Throughout his time working in Norway, Robert changed his type of employment multiple times. He began working through a staffing agency, like most Swedish nurses, but eventually ended up negotiating directly with a hospital, which also offered flexible working hours, but a bit more stability. Instead of working in different cities, types of institutions, and departments every time, which is common when working through staffing agencies, being hired directly by the hospital ensured a more predictable schedule and allowed Robert to better plan his work and family time.
While he was in Norway working, his wife was back in Sweden taking care of their young children. Although this set-up worked for him and his family for a while, he felt it was not ideal. With recent salary increases in Sweden and the career benefits of being a full-time, permanent employee, the financial benefits of working in Norway were no longer sufficient to keep him away from his family:
I’m back in Sweden. The salaries have gone up a bit and my family situation demands that I’m home more.
Commuting vs. migration
From the interviews with the Swedish nurses, it became clear how the proximity and flexibility of working in Norway played a role in their decisions to work abroad. As many Swedish nurses work on short-term contracts, their working in Norway is often construed as “commuting” rather than “migration.” This may differ from the narratives told by the Polish nurses we have interviewed.
Polish nurses also often work through staffing agencies and there are many relatively inexpensive, direct flights to Poland from Norway. What role does that proximity and ease of travel play? What about the staffing agencies? What happens to their families? Do they consider moving them to Norway? Or do they try to maintain families in Poland while working in Norway?
Follow along as we continue this discussion in our next post.