Covid jab nurse May Parsons to launch charity for international colleagues

The NHS nurse who administered the world’s first Covid jab is launching a charity to help internationally-trained health workers reach their full potential.

Filipina May Parsons found herself in the spotlight when she gave 90-year-old Maggie Keenan the groundbreaking inoculation in December 2020.

She has since become one of Britain’s best-known nurses, receiving the George Cross from the Queen on behalf of the NHS.

May, who is now chief nurse at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, said the experience had been bizarre but a privilege.

The mother-of-two is determined to use her newfound fame to improve the support available to thousands of foreign nurses seeking a career in English-speaking countries.

READ MORE: New figures show number of NHS doctors from abroad is higher than ever before 

Almost half of nurses and midwives who joined the UK’s professional register in the year to March 2023 trained outside the UK.

Better opportunities for career progression and to improve her future family’s prospects were the main attractions when May came to the UK in 2003.

Although she grew up speaking American English, she struggled to understand British accents and slang.

Speaking on International Nurses Day on Sunday, May told the Daily Express: “It might not seem like it but for somebody who has been used to a different accent and different way of talking, it’s scary.

“If you’re dealing with patients and people’s health, you want to be able to understand what they are telling you and be understood.

“‘Have you had your tea?’ I didn’t realise that meant dinner. It was a difficult time.

“I thought I was quite proficient in English until I got here and it made me realise that I wasn’t because the accent and words used are different. It took me about six months to a year to get used to it.”

The Philippines is thought to be the world’s biggest exporter of nurses. Many turn to countries including the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand seeking better pay and career opportunities.

May added: “Certainly in the Philippines, were the inequalities are very wide, if you’re not able to afford to see a doctor or specialist, that’s it for you. The prospects for your prognosis will go downhill.

“When I was looking into the NHS, it was like an exemplar of how it is meant to be. There are a lot of stark differences in terms of opportunities and growth professionally.”

May’s face was even plastered on London buses last year by the proud Philippine government.

The image was captioned: “The nurse who gave the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine. A Filipina. We give the world our best.”

The May Parsons Foundation is expected to launch later this year. It will support Filipinos, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to achieve their nursing qualifications and prepare for international pathways in the UK or other English-speaking countries.

The foundation will receive funding from Occupational English Test (OET), the exam designed to meet the English language needs of the healthcare sector.

May is also hoping to partner with state and private partners in the Philippines.

She has already begun working with OET to hold free classes, both online and in person in the Philippines, about English accents and common terminology.

May said she hoped the project would help nurses who join the NHS from abroad reach their full potential.

She added: “My dream for the foundation is that we will be able to utilise the skills of our internationally-educated health workers in the UK that are currently not being maximised.

“The World Health Organisation says that by 2030 we will need 4.5 million more nurses globally.

“I wanted to make sure that we continue to inspire future nurses and empower them to get there.

“In a world full of challenges, healthcare is one of the top needs. Everybody from the cradle to the grave will always need healthcare.”

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