Case Study

International Recruitment Fellowship

Find out how NHS England South East developed a programme to support and learn from international recruits to improve recruitment and retention.

17 May 2023

NHS England South East identified the need for a programme to support international recruitment and retention. In response to this need, it chose to develop a fellowship programme for internationally educated nurses (IENs). The fellowship aimed to support and learn from IENs across the region, including colleagues with lived experience who joined the NHS as internationally educated nurses.

Key benefits and outcomes

  • All eight fellows who participated in the programme completed it successfully, alongside their individual workload.
  • The fellows saw a marked improvement in their confidence and development opportunities.
  • The success of the initial fellowship has prompted NHS England to run a second fellowship programme.

What the organisation faced

NHS England South East nursing workforce team recognised the unique challenges faced by internationally recruited nurses and sought to learn more about these challenges to improve support.

The team wanted to focus on overcoming obstacles international nurses faced by taking a closer look at the nurses' recruitment process, their development and wellbeing, recognising the importance of understanding and addressing the challenges to improve retention.

To achieve this a comprehensive work programme was required to specifically support and learn from international recruits across the region. The organisation's ultimate aim was to leverage the experiences of internationally educated nurses (IENs) to continually enhance the support provided to international recruits.

What the organisation did

The international recruitment fellowship programme was a new initiative created by NHS England South East, focusing on improving the recruitment and retention of IENs. The fellowship was established to provide valuable support to nurses, helping them to gain a deeper understanding of the NHS, explore available opportunities, foster quality improvement in healthcare, and facilitating broader engagement with the internationally educated workforce.

To engage international recruits, the nursing workforce team developed an application form for individuals to put themselves forward for the programme. The application process consisted of a series of questions focused on the NHS Long Term Plan, the lived experience of the nurses, and any ideas for a quality improvement project focusing on international recruitment within their organisation. The application also included the project’s aims and objectives, a brief introduction, appraisal, personal development plans and support. Line management and chief nurse officer sign-off was required to submit an application.

The core principles of the programme were built around the personal experiences of the fellows, support for the international recruitment teams, improving international recruitment experience, and challenging decisions. The fellowship ran for 18 months, for two days per month, to allow the fellows to continue working in their normal roles. Eight nurses were successful in joining the fellowship and worked across seven different NHS organisations in the South East region.

A development programme was planned around the level of experience and professional background of the fellows. The programme included elements of quality improvement in healthcare, an introduction to project management, healthcare policies (with a focus on healthcare policies related to international recruitment), project report development, and virtual and in-person presentation skills.

Results and benefits

The fellowship gave the participants the opportunity to meet regional and national leads in the NHS, work on international recruitment topics, and share their experiences and insight. The nurses who participated in the fellowship have reported professional and personal growth, increased confidence, and better understanding of the NHS. They felt that the fellowship allowed them to progress in their careers.

From a professional development perspective, six fellows progressed in their career in more senior jobs within the same NHS organisations, with two of them starting the programme as Band 5 staff nurse and now working at Band 7 level in the educational department. All the fellows who were promoted cited the programme as a key factor in increasing their confidence, knowledge, application writing and preparation for job interviews.

Overcoming obstacles

Initially, the advertisement of the fellowship was limited with very few people signing up. The fellowship team overcame this by sharing information on social media, enabling them to reach more people and increase awareness of the programme. As a result, the program quickly received over 70 applications for the eight available positions.

The time available for the fellows to complete their fellowship projects was limited to the allocated 15 hours/month. Regular reviews of the fellowship schedule were required to ensure that the fellows had sufficient time to both learn and work on their projects.

Feedback was critical throughout the programme and facilitators evaluated each session to ensure the fellowship met the members' needs, allowing study days or meetings away from their desks. By adapting the programme fellows' needs were more effectively met and this was reported back via the evaluation process. 

Next steps

Following successful completion of the first fellowship, the South East region is running a further fellowship with five fellows, broadening the roles to include allied health professionals (AHPs) and midwives. It will continue to run for two days per month, but over a shorter time period of 12 months.

Top tips

  • To create a successful fellowship programme, ensure that you have a proper application process in place and adequate time set aside for recruitment.
  • Establish a good working relationship with the Trusts that employ the fellows.
  • Plan the evaluation of the work in advance of the programme and ensure it is adaptable.

Contact details

Stefano Pochetti, international recruitment lead, NHS England South East,