NAME | Rachael Maunsell

JOB TITLE | Ward nurse in the VIP ward of a private hospital

LOCATION | Brussels, Belgium

5:30 AM WAKE

My alarm clock goes off at 5.15am but I need to hit the snooze button at least two or three times before I can make it out of bed. I shower, get dressed and always need to eat breakfast otherwise I feel out of sorts. Breakfast is porridge with a cup of tea and then I’m out of the door by 6.15am. It is summer in Brussels and light when I leave, so I’ve started biking to work. I find it good exercise and it only takes me 25 minutes. On arriving I change in our rather cramped locker rooms and head upstairs to the ward.


My working day starts with the handover from the night nurse. Today we are a team of two nurses, one nurse aide and an agency nurse to help us with the increasing number of patients.

I work in the VIP ward of a private hospital. The VIP ward has 17 rooms which are designed more like a hotel room for patients willing to pay more for the comfort. Each room has a small kitchenette with tea and coffee facilities, a bathroom with Bvlgari soap products and nice towels, etc. The sheets for the beds are made from silk cotton and patients are able to order room service from the restaurant.

The standard of care and the preference for medical treatment is no different to any other patient in the hospital. The majority of patients are Belgians, but we have had a real variety including some French musicians and European politicians. Most of our patients are coming in for surgery, but we take a wide range of medical patients as well.


After report it is assisting patients to have a wash – whether in their bed or helping them to the bathroom, making sure they have adequate pain relief, and following up on treatments following the doctors’ round.

Being the VIP ward you have to be adaptable, although it is not always possible. Some patients like to sleep late, some like to have their breakfast first and it can be challenging and demanding. It is a very individual style of care.

Most patients always ask how a
New Zealand nurse ended up working in a hospital in Brussels. I moved to Brussels four years ago because my partner is Belgian.

I was lucky to get this job and also lucky that it was relatively easy getting Belgian nursing registration. It helped that I had a living/working visa (based on being in a relationship with a Belgian) and that I had had nursing registration and experience in the UK, an EU state (for now). I had to get all my documents officially translated but there were no examinations or even a language proficiency test – after three months I received my Belgian registration.

While waiting for registration I went to French school each morning. (I was not able to speak any of Belgium’s three official languages – French being the most prominent in Brussels).

After three months of classes, I didn’t think it would be possible to work in nursing with such a basic level of French but my partner encouraged me. We found this hospital, which wanted an English-speaking nurse for their new VIP service, though French was still essential.

I started work on a three-month trial period with both the hospital and I knowing my French needed to improve dramatically if I was to continue.

My French was incredibly basic and working in a noisy and busy environment made it difficult to understand and be understood. I was terrified to answer the telephone when it rang, answer a nurse call bell, or speak to the doctors and take medical orders. There was a lot of learning in those first three months. I was so exhausted, I was in bed every night by 9pm.

However, Belgians are open people and generally incredibly understanding of my grammatical mistakes and terrible phonetics (Kiwi accent). Some patients and doctors like to practice or speak English, but usually 90 per cent of my day is in French.


Lunch is usually a quick 15–20 minutes to eat something before we start the report for the afternoon staff at 1.30pm.


After the report it’s time to give the 2pm medications, follow up on any care or treatment, maybe take an admission and finish off any last minute arrangements.

The names and preferences of drugs are different from New Zealand and the manner of nursing is subtly different, for example IV antibiotics, controlled drugs can be checked and given by one nurse.

I had been nursing for 12 years before nursing in Belgium and could not have survived those first months without this knowledge and technical experience behind me.

The Belgian health system is complicated but it offers a wide variety of technical health care options with direct access to consultants and minimal wait times.

There is a payment for each medical visit and procedure. Every Belgian is required to belong to a mutuelle health insurance scheme and the majority of the medical cost is reimbursed by the mutuelle. The final price the patient pays depends on whether the patient chooses a private or public system. This amount can also be covered by health insurance.


After leaving work today I bike into the centre of town where I have my twice-weekly yoga course. I find it a good exercise and it helps to relieve the stress of the working day.

7:00 PM HOME

After yoga it’s a quick stop to the supermarket to find something for dinner and I am home by 7pm. My partner and I sit at the table eating dinner and chatting and then it is a collapse on the couch for some internet, reading or television.



  1. Hi Rachael,

    I hope you’re feeling a little more comfortable with your level of French now, but I know it takes time.

    I find your article particularly interesting for a few reasons- language, nursing, recognition of qualifications. I’m an Australian nurse with dual citizenship (Australian/Dutch). I’m hoping to find work as a nurse in future in Belgium, and I find your story inspiring. My French is of B2 level and I’m working towards C1 (thus, I’m an advanced speaker), while my Dutch knowledge is lower at around B1 (low intermediate), but I am aiming to improve it in the near future.

    I’m just writing to you in the hope that you could perhaps share any insights or advice you might have with regards to an Aussie nurse wanting to integrate into nursing in Belgium (likely Brussels).

    Kind regards,

  2. Hello Rachael,
    Thank you for this article it makes me excited about the possibility of working in Poland. I am a Canadian Registered Nurse and my French is decent. Would you mind letting me know which hospital you were able to be employed. I would love to pick your brain about how the process went for you, could you send me an e-mail at it would be extremely helpful to me to talk to someone who has gone through the process.

    Thank you.
    Tami Marr


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