A Shortage amid the Glut in Nursing Graduates

The Philippines has an oversupply of nursing graduates especially with the visa retrogression in the US. But ironically, many government hospitals lack nurses and other health professionals. With low pay and poor working conditions in government hospitals, nursing graduates opt to work abroad or work here even as volunteers with no pay and allowance.

Contributed to Bulatlat.com
Volume VIII, Number 28, August 17-23, 2008

Jay-R Manzano, 21, is all set for his review. He made sure to wake up early so that he could still go through his notes and not forget the discussion his class had the day before.

Jay-R and his friends, sisters Grethel Ann and Gretchen Mae Tubo, are reviewing for the licensure examination for nurses come late November. Like most of their friends and classmates, they have started their preparation early, the usual being a month before the scheduled exam. They have enrolled at a commercial review center, but by late October they will be undergoing a more intensive review in their school, the University of Cebu.

Despite the effort that they are making, they have already accepted the fact that they may not be able to get their dream job as nurses in the United States of America as soon as they hoped. But they are willing to work as volunteers abroad or even in private hospitals here, with no pay and no allowance.

“Just so we will gain the experience that we will need once the US will start accepting Filipino nurses again,” said Jay-R.

“We know that right now the US is not accepting Filipino nurses because of the (visa) retrogression, but then I am still optimistic that after the elections (in the US) this little obstacle will be lifted, and again they will open their doors for us,” Grethel said.

In order to protect American nurses and other health professionals, the US has set a limit on the number of foreign nurses that will be given access to the US. This created a shortage of nurses and physical therapists in the States and so the US Congress passed H.R. 5924 or the Emergency Nursing Supply Relief Act. However, the Hispanic block in the US Congress sets as a condition to passing the bill, the granting of amnesty to Mexican illegal settlers in the US. This created a deadlock in the progress of the bill and in the process, the hiring of foreign-trained nurses decreased, if not stopped.

In an article in The FREEMAN (August 11, 2008), Oscar A. Tuason, administrator of the Cebu Doctors University Hospital, expressed alarm over the decrease in the demand for Filipino nurses in the US. He said that this has a direct effect on the number of enrollees in the nursing program of schools, elaborating that at present most nursing schools are losing students at the rate of five to eight percent.

Tuason cited five reasons for the decrease in demand for Filipino nurses: the worsening quality of graduates, unskilled and inexperienced nurses, attitude problems that include lack of motivation and lack of commitment, signing up with more than one agency, and poor ability in conversational English due to the decline in the standard of education.

Judy Aragones, R.N., PhD., spokesperson of the Cebu chapter of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) and a professor at the University of San Carlos, however, expressed disagreement with Tuason regarding the trend in nursing enrollees.

“It is obvious that more and more of our young people are taking up nursing,” Aragones claimed. “There are those whose heart may not be in the profession but they see it as their way out of poverty. Even if the US is closing its doors, there are alternate destinations for our nurses like the Middle East, Singapore, Japan and European countries.”

Aragones, however, maintained that going out of the country for work is not the solution to the country’s economic problems. “I strongly disagree with our government encouraging our people to work abroad. It is the responsibility of our government to take care of our graduates. We are losing skilled and hard working people,” she lamented.

Aragones admitted that the main reason for the decrease, if not stop, in the hiring of foreign-trained nurses is mainly because of the visa retrogression policy of the US. As a consequence, many graduates have found themselves unemployed or under employed; and with schools producing more nursing graduates each year, the health sector in the country is now facing a dilemma in the oversupply of nurses.

“Some of them have to make do with being volunteers, receiving no pay or allowance. Their only consolation is that they would be able to use the certification that they would get from hospitals for possible employment in other countries,” Aragones said.

She admitted that hospitals in Cebu are understaffed. Because they could not afford to hire new nurses, they are forced to accept only volunteers.

“It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that our nurses are employed. To encourage them to stay and serve the country, the government should come up with a good socio-economic package that would include non-monetary compensations,” Aragones said.

She said the government must provide good working conditions, skills development, and such other non-economic benefits, saying that salary-wise the Philippines would not be able to compete.

“The starting pay of our nurses right now, on average, is at P15, 000 ($331) per month. Compare that to the salary they will be getting in the US and other countries (an average of US$20 per hour). This is very small,” she explained.

Jay-R, Grethel and Gretchen are now making efforts to pass the local licensure exam. Soon they will start to process their papers for the US, despite the retrogression. “We know that right now it seems impossible to get a job in the US, but then again, it does not mean that we should also stop trying,” Gretchen said.

Aragones explained that unless the government would do something to encourage health workers to stay in the country, more young people like Jay-R, Grethel and Gretchen would still desire to work in foreign countries like the US. Contributed to (Bulatlat.com)

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