Solving the Nursing Shortage with Apple Pie and Kindness

Coral, a volunteer with Communities 1st, found that chatting about cake helped her to engage with Nigerian nurses working at the Lister Hospital! The nurses found cake both a source of comfort and entertainment! What is it about the English and their cake?

Coral is supporting the International Nurse Buddy Scheme that Communities 1st is running in response to a request from the National Health Service. Like most parts of the country, Hertfordshire is experiencing a shortage of qualified nurses, so the local NHS is looking at ways of supporting and retaining nurses recruited from overseas.  Communities 1st, an organisation that through tackling COVID had already established a good relationship with the NHS, was invited to help by recruiting volunteers who could meet with and befriend nurses from overseas. The buddies help them to get to know the local area, and signpost them to sources of advice and support. As a volunteer Coral has met the brief!

Coral read about the Buddy Scheme in a newsletter and liked the thinking behind it. She was already volunteering with C1st at vaccination centres, but she was open to a new and different challenge. She felt that the project could make a difference and help the NHS retain nurses. Coral signed up last October and very quickly she was making new friends.

An arrangement was made that Coral would meet up with Ayo*, an experienced Nigerian nurse working at the Lister. Ayo brought along a friend, Martha*, also from Nigeria and they all went out for coffee. Coral gave them a tour of Stevenage and showed them the station and the shops. She introduced the nurses to the delights of Argos and showed them how it works.

The next time Coral met with the two nurses they brought along another friend, Kayin also a Nigerian nurse at the Lister. Coral feels that supporting the three nurses together works well as the conversation flows easily and they can share their experiences and support each other.   

Coral has set up a WhatsApp group so they can swap messages and arrange to meet. She feels that: “it is reassuring to know that if you are feeling low you have a buddy that you can contact.”

Through the scheme, Coral can identify some of the problems that the overseas nurses face and help find ways forward. For example, Coral became aware that finding accommodation can be a worry. She helped by looking up letting agencies and sharing the information. She has also raised the problem with Communities 1st and suggested that the hospital could recruit host families. 

A cultural difference that they found was – CAKE!  When they went out for coffee, the nurses told Coral that in Nigeria they had heard that “Apple pie is the thing to eat in England!” Coral suggested they each have a different cake which they could share. Coral feels it is important to keep the chat light-hearted and cake provided an excellent vehicle. Her favourite cake, by the way, is lemon drizzle! Mine is treacle and pecan pie, ideally with clotted cream!

Coral feels that the International Nurse Buddy Scheme is working well.  She feels her nurses are settling in well and it is a pleasure to watch their progress.  She sees that the nurses are an asset to the NHS – they are qualified, hardworking, kind, and considerate. They are committed and want to stay in this country.

Coral feels that she has benefitted from the scheme too. While she has travelled a lot, she has never been to Nigeria, and she was pleased to learn about that country. “It’s been a good learning opportunity,” she explained, “and I’ve been pleased to trade stories. I have learnt a lot. I feel I have made three friends and I’d love to stay in touch.”

Coral feels: “The Buddy scheme is a great idea. You need an outgoing personality. I would certainly encourage others to come forward and help make a difference.” While a liking for cake may help, that isn’t essential!


*Nurses in this piece have been given alternative names.

Written by Chris Cloke