Editorial | The value of nurses in the age of globalisation
Philippe Douste-Blazy misdiagnosed the problem. Consequently, the French candidate to be director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) prescribed an ineffective solution to Jamaica's endemic shortage of nurses.
When developed countries finance the education of nurses, he suggested, a reciprocal requirement of students could be that they work for a time in a developing country, like Jamaica. In the case of a school in Jamaica, or a similar country, students would be bonded for a period.
"We can say, 'After your diploma, you have to stay at home for three or four years'," Professor Douste-Blazy, a former health minister, told this newspaper.
Here is part of the flaw with that idea: First World nations are poaching nurses from Jamaica and other countries because they do not have enough. Indeed, in the European Union (EU), it is estimated that over a quarter of the nursing positions are unfilled. In America, while half a decade ago more than a million nurses were working outside of their profession, it was projected that by 2022, 1.2 million nursing vacancies would exist. The call was for the training of a million nurses.
The cause of this situation in the US and other developed countries is several-fold. Not least of them is the rapid graying of their populations. The baby boomers are reaching that time of their lives when they are consuming more healthcare, including nursing services.
Changes with time
Yet, in those countries, nursing is not as attractive a profession as it used to be. A quarter of a century ago, when insurance companies began crimping of reimbursement claims for healthcare, among the areas where institutions sought to save was on their nursing staff. As workload and work stress rose, nurses migrated from the profession. At the same time, new professions were opening, and expanding, to women, who make up the great bulk of nurses. At the same time, the salaries of nurses lagged behind many professions, especially when the stress associated with nursing is taken into account.
The upshot: developed countries stepped up their recruiting in countries like Jamaica. It made sense. Our nurses are not only well-trained, but their salaries and conditions of work and opportunities for professional development lag substantially behind the developed world's. Indeed, foreign recruiters are often willing to clear the bonds of Jamaican nurses, freeing them to work abroad.
In the circumstance, Professor Douste-Blazy's proposal offers little for what ails Jamaica's nursing sector. In any event, this newspaper believes the problem should be treated as a short-term irritant than a major malady.
First, that foreigners should want to recruit Jamaica's nurses is wholly a vote of high confidence in Jamaica's nursing training institutions and the quality of the students they produce. It says much, too, about the professional skills they acquire on the job. Any downside is what their departure tells us about other push factors in the economy, and the society generally. Those we have to fix.
But the broader lesson in this age of globalisation is that rather than engaging in a collective hand-wringing and a societal whinge, Jamaica should make the best use of the opportunities opened abroad: just establish the system to recruit and train more nurses. If they want to break their bonds and emigrate, it should be no problem once they repay the full economic cost of their training. Their remittance, too, has economic value.