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The Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers~ Aiming to Nurture Foreign Nurses and Care Workers to Work in Japan ~

© Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers

Ms Junko Aono,
Chief Director of the Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers

In Close Up this month, we introduce the Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers (abbreviated hereinafter to “SNC”). For foreign trainees who aim to pass Japan’s national examinations for nurses and care workers, SNC was established to undertake support via a range of activities including the provision of Japanese language classes and preparatory assistance for the aforementioned exams, etc. What is more, the organization’s activities have now been extended beyond Japan’s shores, with language classes being provided in Vietnam to graduates of university-level nursing courses, the idea being to link those who develop Japanese language skills to future employment opportunities in this country. On this occasion, we spoke to Ms. Junko Aono, SNC Chief Director, both about the organization’s establishment, and the situation and issues that currently confront foreign nurses and care workers here in Japan.

Q. Please tell me what led to the establishment of your organization.

A. In early 2011, at around the time I was to retire from a university that teaches nursing, I saw a TV documentary that discussed the rise of Asia. What is more, in that I had the opportunity to be involved in helping look after two Indonesian nursing trainees who were then working at a hospital close by in accordance with the Japan-Indonesia Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), I realized that after I retired I would like to do something to assist my fellow Asians. On realizing that, as somebody who for many years had been involved in healthcare, it came to my mind that I could best offer my support to the field of education. Thus, as an organization that was to be mainly involved in supporting foreign nursing and care worker trainees who came to this country in accordance with various EPAs, I established what was then a non-profit organization along with a number of friends in 2012. While supporting such trainees who will bear some responsibility for the future conducting of healthcare and nursing in this country, I felt the desire to become an advocate of how best to address the issues that will arise as ours becomes a more multicultural society.

Q. When SNC was first established, what sort of activities did you undertake?

A. While offering support to EPA trainees through language classes and preparatory assistance for their exams, to better respond to those individuals who had already passed, we surveyed both foreign nurses and the hospitals where they worked. We also planned to conduct a similar survey among foreign care workers. However, we failed to gain sufficient sample. Additionally, and mainly for the benefit of foreign nurses and care workers, we commenced Japanese classes to help them develop the language skills to better do their jobs. In that we also received requests from married Filipinos in Japan who wished to sit the care worker examination, we established a preparatory course targeted at foreign residents.

© Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers © Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers

“Japanese Class for Nursing and Care Work” (Left)
and the “Preparatory Course for Foreign Residents to Sit the Care Worker Examination.” (Right)
© Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers

Q. Please tell me about the nursing and care worker trainees who come to Japan under the terms of the various EPAs.

A. The acceptance by Japan of foreign nursing and care worker trainees commenced in 2008 when a number of Indonesians arrived. They were later joined by trainees from the Philippines (starting in 2009) and most recently Vietnam (starting in 2014). Combined, more than 3,800 individuals have now been accepted from the three countries (as of September 2016). In 2016, approximately 10% of foreign nursing trainees successfully passed the national examination, while the comparative figure among care worker trainees who sat the care worker examination was approximately 50%. Thus, the low pass rate for the nursing examination is particularly striking. As to why the pass rate in the nursing examination has not risen despite special steps being taken to revise its terminology, to lengthen its duration and to annotate the exam questions themselves with furigana, I think one issue is that when concluding the EPA with Indonesia and the Philippines, it was set out that the nursing trainees only needed to pass Level 5 (N5) of the Japanese Proficiency Exam (their having the ability to understand some basic Japanese). Thus, on arriving in Japan, these trainees were only required to demonstrate a rudimentary understanding of the language. By contrast, when the EPA was concluded with Vietnam, it was set out that the nursing trainees from that country needed to have passed Level 3 (N3) of the Japanese Proficiency Exam upon arriving in Japan (their having the ability to understand to a certain degree the Japanese languages as it is used in everyday situations), this requirement was a full two levels above what was requested of Indonesian and Filipino trainees. As such, among nursing trainees from Vietnam, around 40% successfully pass the national examination.

Q. What is the situation for nurses and care workers after they have passed the relevant national examinations and have started working here in Japan?

© Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers

A. The reputation of trainees who overcome the language barrier and successfully pass the national examinations for nurses and care workers is very good. Furthermore, to offer some general comments, I think that our Asian colleagues tend to be positive in both their outlook and very skillful when it comes to physical contact with others. Moreover, in that the trainees are gentle individuals to begin with, they are very well suited to working in care facilities. Of course, among some facility users, there can initially be some hesitancy regarding “foreigners.” However, it is my impression that such negativity disappears almost immediately. While saying that, we do encounter some issues. For example, despite these foreign care workers having successfully obtained Japanese qualifications, many nevertheless choose to return home after just three or four years. Thus, there are issues when it comes to getting people with nursing qualifications from their home countries to work here as care workers. For example, regarding the three countries with which Japan has EPAs, their nurse training does not really cover the job of being a care worker. Furthermore, there is a strong idea that caring for people (as opposed to nursing them) is a family job rather than one that is done by somebody who has undergone specialized training. Accordingly, it can be difficult to instill within them the idea that being a care worker is an important job that they can be proud of. What is more, the average age of the EPA trainees who come to Japan is around 25 or 26 years old. Thus, in that there is a general understanding in many Asian countries that women will be married by 30, even if they hold Japanese qualifications, many foreign nurses and care workers decide to return home after just a few years.

Q. And why did you decide to expand the activities of SNC overseas?

A. To better support foreign nurses and care workers so that they would feel more comfortable with working in Japan long-term, we saw that it was necessary that we better understand the society and the conditions under which EPA participants grow up as individuals as well as gaining some appreciation of the nature of the education that they receive. Concerning Vietnam which started sending nursing and care worker trainees to Japan in 2014, we undertook a survey on how the nation was conducting its nursing and care worker training. When doing so, we realized that there was a desire to transform nursing curriculums at the tertiary level by incorporating elements of how things were done in Japan. Moreover, although we witnessed strong interest in working in Japan among nursing graduates of regional universities due to their own difficulty in securing domestic employment, we unfortunately realized that there was little understanding among them of Japan’s nursing and care worker practices. Thus, we commenced a support program for the teaching of Japanese by dispatching language instructors to Thai Binh Medical College in September of 2016.

© Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers © Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers

Visiting Thai Binh Medical College (shown are the college’s President (center) and Vice-President (on the right))(Left)
With some of the students.(Right)
© Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers

Furthermore, in conjunction with Thai Binh Medical College, during February to April of this year, we held three training courses on Japan’s nursing and care worker practices. What is more, we started a “Japanese Language Course for Graduates” in June. Through it we aim to give nursing graduates in Vietnam the opportunity to develop language skills at Level 2 (N2) or better of the Japanese Proficiency Exam, after which they can study at Japanese technical college and end up working here. I should also point out that for non-Japanese people who have graduated from training facilities in Japan and who have obtained national qualifications, from September 1st this year there will be a new “care worker” visa designation that will allow them to work in this country. Additionally, we are undertaking Japanese language classes free of charge in order that Vietnamese nursing graduates can come to Japan for study and work without being saddled with significant debts when doing so. What is more, in assisting in the revision of the nursing curriculum that is taught to students, at the end of September in conjunction with Thai Binh Medical College we shall be holding workshops on the “differences between Japanese and Vietnamese nursing education when viewed from the perspective of Japan’s national nursing examinations.”

© Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers © Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers

Again, at the Thai Binh Medical College
Commencement ceremony of the “Japanese Language Course for Graduates” (Left) and some of the students taking the class. (Right)
© Authorized Non-Profit Organization for Educational Support for Foreign Nurses and Care Workers

Q. Please tell me about your future plans.

A. It is planned that the first graduates of Thai Binh Medical College’s Japanese language program will arrive in Japan in April of 2019 in order to learn about care giving at vocational schools. In that among those who are currently enrolled, there are many who have expressed a wish to work in Japan long-term, I think the first thing that we will need to do is thoroughly support them. In this country, that combines a rapidly aging population with fewer and fewer children, I think the shortfall in human resources in nursing and caregiving will deteriorate further. Thus, for those foreign nurses and care workers who successfully gain Japanese qualifications, I would like them to be able to work comfortably here over the long-term. I would also like them to make good use of the skills they acquire if and when they return to their home countries at some point in the future. Furthermore, once we have settled on our support of Vietnam’s universities, I would like SNC to consider further expanding its programs to other countries in the ASEAN region such as Myanmar. That would help with both the nurturing and securing of future nurses and care workers.