Thu | Oct 17, 2019

Lennie Little-White | Export our nurses

Published:Sunday | September 15, 2019 | 12:24 AM

Our nursing stock is being depleted by the constant recruitment by hospitals in North America and England. Before you accuse the nurses of being unpatriotic for their mass migration, consider that most of them are not paid a living wage after years of first-class training.

After years of formal study and student loans to repay, most nurses take home less than the average security guard and have very little spare time to do a ‘roast’ on the side. So when the foreign agencies come offering them anywhere from US$50,000-US$60,000 per annum, who can blame them for leaving? Today, they now have another big incentive because their entire nuclear family is also included in the package.

The result is undermanned hospitals that put the lives of the sick at risk. The Government is in a Catch-22 position because there is not enough money to increase the salaries of nurses without extending the same offer to all civil servants. Obviously, this situation cannot continue. So how do we solve the problem? We must train more nurses and pay them a living wage if we expect them to stay in Jamaica.

Parallel training scheme

The time is ripe to create a parallel nursing training scheme dedicated to producing nurses for export. The Government can then charge an export fee for each nurse that is provided to foreign hospitals. The proceeds can be used to help defray the costs of their education. Most nurses will gladly pay their own tuition fee knowing that after graduation, they will have a guaranteed job overseas, where the big bucks are waiting.

The idea of educating our people for export is not a novel idea. Our neighbour, Cuba, has been doing this for generations, turning out scores of doctors and nurses who are sent to work in many Third World countries. A significant part of their emolument is repatriated to the central government of Cuba.

For generations, we have been sending Jamaicans overseas to the farm-work programme in North America. These recruits need little formal education but must only be skilled with a machete or nimble hands to pick apples and tomatoes. The good thing about this scheme is that most of their remuneration is repatriated to Jamaica, boosting our balance of payments and making the Bank of Jamaica happy.

The wages of the farm workers are a constant stream of foreign exchange to support families, acquire land, build homes, and save some for their retirement years. The very same thing will occur if we start training nurses for export. Yes, some might acquire citizenship and never come back to reside in Jamaica, but they will continue to send remittances to help their families and come home once each year to be home-grown tourists with a little twang to boot.

In the United States, the tech labour force, especially in Silicon Valley, is dominated by Indians – many of whom were trained at home for the export market. All these young Indians repatriate a significant portion of their income to their families back home.

We now operate in a global economy where nationality does not affect commerce and business. Jamaica has many competitive advantages, which makes our labour force very attractive to foreign entities. These include the fact that we speak English, and our geographic location is close to the North American mainland. Let us exploit these advantages.

If we can train nurses for the export market, there are other disciplines where Jamaicans are in high demand in North America. These include housekeepers, babysitters, and caregivers, to name a few. At another level, the cruise ships are peopled with Jamaicans who are hired to work in every stratum of labour on the ships. Their income outstrips what they can ever earn in Jamaica to the extent that many of them work on revolving six-month contracts before coming home to build their houses here.

The fact is that the Brand Jamaica labour force has currency that is in high demand and is not likely to be devalued anytime soon. Sugar is dying, bauxite is on its knees, bananas are subject to tropical hurricanes, and our once-treasured sensemillia has been replicated with more potent strains in California and other American states. Don’t let us lose our competitive advantage with our well-trained labour force.

The medical school of the University of the West Indies does not have enough space to admit all qualified applicants from the Caribbean. At the same time, North American entrepreneurs are establishing medical schools in several Caribbean countries to satisfy the hospital needs of the continent. This is another missed opportunity of indigenous investors to develop educated labour force for export.

The Government must educate to satisfy the needs of its island people, but a major export market exists in training for export. Will we seize the moment?

Need I remind you that the establishment of the Caribbean Maritime Institute-cum-university was designed to export some of its graduates to markets near and far. The same prototype can be used for everything from hospitality workers, trailer drivers, to massage therapists, and other services that are in high demand overseas. Don’t scoff at this untapped market.

CHANGING SEXUAL MORES

There is a rise in sexually transmitted infections (STI) across the nation. One interesting statistic that I learned from my medical professional friends is that the greatest increase of STIs is among older adults as opposed to the younger generation. One theory is that the older men are seeking sexual pleasures from prostitutes, who are a ready source for the propagation of STIs. These same men then go home to their wives, female and male partners and infect them without them knowing.

In turn, these same wives and partners are also out and about their own flings. The circle gets wider. The first step to halt the epidemic is to legalise prostitution so that the practitioners can get mandatory medical examinations. Who is the first to object?

- Lennie Little-White, CD, MA, is a Jamaican filmmaker and writer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and lennielittle.white@gmail.com.