When she started her nurse training back in the 1990s, Ofrah Muflahi (pictured above right) was the only person who identified as Arab in her cohort. “Although I was passionate about becoming a registered nurse, in some ways I felt like I never really fitted in. It was tough,” she recalls.
While the idea to set up a nursing association for her Arab nursing and midwifery colleagues had always been there, it crystalised after she did a presentation during Black History Month.
“A nurse contacted me to say how great it was to see a fellow Arab nurse, but then asked where she could link with others and find that sense of belonging,” says Ofrah, who’s the RCN Professional Lead for Nursing Support Workers. “I had nowhere for her to go.”
Working with her cousin, Afrah Muflihi – who is Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead Midwife for Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust – the pair have now founded the British Arab Nursing and Midwifery Association (BANMA), which began recruiting members in April 2023.
A long history
While there’s a perception that Arabs are relatively new migrants to the UK, that’s simply not true, says Ofrah.
“We’ve been here since the 1800s,” she says. “I’ve been nursing for around 30 years and while there’s been momentum around internationally educated nurses, recruitment targeted at different ethnic groups and more focus on diversity, I’ve yet to meet the first Arab chief nurse in the UK.”
Meanwhile the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) didn’t start recording Arab ethnicity until its report of 2021-22, she says.
“For all these years, I’ve been ticking ‘other’,” says Ofrah. “Yet when Arab health care professionals talk to us, it’s apparent they have a real connection with their identity and culture. It’s what makes you who you are.”
Now BANMA’s overarching objective is to amplify the voice of Arab nursing and midwifery professionals.
“It’s to make us more visible,” says Ofrah. Advocacy is a key issue. “We want to encourage people from Arab communities into careers in nursing and midwifery,” she says.
They also want to try to tackle health inequalities. “For example, some women are missing out on cervical screening and mammograms.”
I’m proud to be both from the Black Country, but also a Yemeni woman
A second aim is to help internationally educated nurses and midwives from Arab countries to settle here.
“I was born and brought up in the UK and I’m proud to be both from the Black Country, but also a Yemeni woman,” says Ofrah.
“I understand how UK culture and systems work. But for those who are coming to work here from other countries, it’s all unfamiliar and hard for them to navigate. Some can be highly qualified, skilled and experienced but when they come to the UK they have to start from scratch. They need our help to progress.”
Plugging the gap in support
RCN member Huda Ahmed joined BANMA earlier this year.
“As Arab nurses who are new to the UK, it’s a good opportunity for us to find others who have similar backgrounds, understanding our needs and giving us the proper advice about any issues we might face,” she says.
Huda moved to the UK in 2019 from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), although she is originally Egyptian. She’s currently working as a registered nurse with Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.
“Coming to the UK gave me the chance to gain more experience, enhancing my nursing career,” says Huda, who has been nursing since 1999.
She’s already asked BANMA for advice.
“It was a situation I didn’t know how to deal with,” she says. “Many of us have trained outside the UK so we don’t have the experience of how some things work here.
“The association has a broad understanding of where we’ve come from and the differences between where we’ve trained and here. It’s plugging a gap in the support we need.”
Having to start again
Fellow RCN member Fatima Alali arrived in the UK in 2021 from Dubai, where she had always lived.
“Moving here was quite scary, but I’d heard a lot of good things about the NHS, so I decided to do it,” she says.
She qualified as a nurse in 2009, moving up the career ladder, eventually becoming a nurse manager.
“In the UK, I’ve had to start all over again,” says Fatima. Her first post was in West Yorkshire, but she moved to Birmingham to be closer to family, working as a staff nurse at Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
She joined BANMA as soon as she could, especially appreciating the support of the fortnightly virtual chats, which are open to all.
When you speak your own language you feel understood
“A lot of nurses move to different jobs, but this is the first time I’ve been away from where I’ve spent all my life,” she says.
“For me, BANMA has given me that familiarity, with people understanding where I come from, my background and culture. They can relate to what I say. When I first joined, I hadn’t spoken Arabic for a long time – when you speak your own language you feel understood.”
Ofrah adds: “BANMA helps in closing the cultural differences as international educated nurses and midwives, bringing nursing and midwifery staff together across UK. While it’s a new association, we already feel how much it’s making a difference.”
- Find out more about BANMA.
- Read about the Florence Nightingale Foundation's work with international nursing and midwifery associations.