Cultural capital and professional development experiences of migrant health and social care professionals

Hatzidimitriadou, Eleni and Psoinos, Maria (2010) Cultural capital and professional development experiences of migrant health and social care professionals. In: Social Work: what progress? what potential?; 05 Nov 2010, Kingston upon Thames, U.K.. (Olive Stevenson Seminar Series) (Unpublished)


In the last decade there has been a systematic growth in the population of skilled migrants entering the UK health and social care sector. In particular, the numbers of social workers possessing qualifications from overseas who come to work in the UK have been increasing annually (Hussein et al., 2010a). Previous research has examined the profile, motivations, experiences and expectations of ‘international’, ‘overseas’ or ‘migrant’ social workers in the UK. In some of these studies (e.g. McGregor, 2007) the participants were professionals from various fields who entered the care sector out of necessity after their arrival to the UK, while in other studies the participants were qualified social workers who trained in their home countries and then migrated to the UK to join the social care sector (Evans et al., 2006b; Hussein et al., 2010b; Moran et al., 2005; Sale, 2002). Much of this literature focuses on challenges these professionals face as they enter the social work workforce (e.g. difficulties in adapting to the English culture, insufficient induction, limited opportunities for career progression) as well as on adverse experiences at the workplace (e.g. experiences of racism and discrimination). While it is undeniably important to do further research on these challenges and difficulties and suggest effective ways of tackling them, it is also important to explore the resources these professionals activate when faced with such challenges. In particular, it is important to tap into the ways in which they actually utilise their cultural capital both in its formal/institutionalised form (i.e. educational credentials and professional qualifications) but also in its informal/incorporated form (i.e. their own work ethics). In this paper migrant social workers are not perceived as passive employees whose cultural capital is inevitably undermined by institutional and informal forms of exclusion, but as active agents who can shape to a large extent the specific context in which they work. The paper is based on part of a larger original research project, which explored the education and employment-related experiences of three groups of migrant health and social care professionals (doctors, social workers and nurses) before and after migrating to the UK. The presented findings emerged from five in-depth narrative interviews carried out with migrant social workers* who were qualified in their home countries and are currently working full-time as social workers in England. The narrative analysis illustrates certain institutional mechanisms which influence the participants’ experiences (e.g. their informal/incorporated cultural capital, that is, their own work ethics, is often undervalued in which case they feel they do ‘more managerial tasks and less actual work with people’). The analysis also reveals how certain social norms in the field of social work shape the participants’ experiences while interacting with colleagues, employers and service-users (e.g. experiences of bullying or mistreatment). However there are also particular accounts of how they actually utilize their cultural capital both for resolving dilemmas they face at the workplace but also for suggesting general improvements in the services they are employed in. Our analysis therefore highlights not only the employment-related difficulties migrant social workers face but also how individuals themselves effectively deal with professional challenges. *language in this area varies but we use the term ‘migrant’ to describe social workers who have qualified outside the UK -either from the EU or other countries- and have already significant work experience in the UK social work sector.

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