It is not the best of times to be a nurse nowadays, in the country or elsewhere.
Demand for nurses in the United States and Canada, once ideal destinations for our country’s nurses, have slowed down since 2006.
According to a CNN report, 43 percent of fresh graduate nurses in the US have not landed a job upon 18 months of receiving their license.
The US is supposedly implementing a “no new nursing grads” policy in their hospitals, meaning they want nurses with experience rather than fresh graduates. No visas have been made available for foreign nurses to enter and work in the US since hospitals, due to the recession, have stopped hiring new nurses and just kept their existing and “experienced” nursing staff.
Demand for nurses in the United Kingdom has also remained stagnant for almost two years now. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said the UK has not opened new job opportunities for nurses aside from a few, old job orders.
Many Filipino nurses have been forced to look for other job opportunities in other countries but have few options.
Japan, for instance, is accepting Filipino nurses and caregivers. But since the Philippines started deploying health workers to Japan in 2009 under the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement, only 15 nurses and one caregiver have passed the stringent Japanese licensure exams.
The local labor market is just as tight. Nurses are now the nation’s second-largest group of professionals after teachers. The country’s large oversupply of nurses has contributed not only to unemployment among their ranks but also to the downward pressure on their wages.
The Professional Regulation Commission estimates that there are at least 300,000 unemployed nurses in the country.
This is why we are glad to hear of government programs like the Nurse Deployment Project of the Department of Health.
The project aims to improve local health systems and support the Philippines’ attainment of Universal Health Care, at the same time providing employment opportunities to the growing number of unemployed nurses in the country.
The government will be spending some P12.7 billion next year to set out 12,540 nurses, 5,749 midwives, 480 dentists and 398 doctors to underserved communities nationwide.
This is according to Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo who said fresh funding for the deployment is contained in the P2.606-trillion General Appropriations Act for 2015, and will be coursed through the Department of Health.
Romulo said the additional staff will be assigned to public hospitals, barangay health stations and rural health units.
The budget allocation would allow nursing and midwifery graduates desperately looking for opportunities to gainfully practice their profession, while many communities reel from inadequate essential health services, Romulo said.
“Many women in urban slums as well as rural villages stiff suffer from the lack of health care during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period,” he pointed out.
The Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) issued licenses to 22,202 new nurses and 2,494 midwives this year alone.
Recently, some 30,000 nursing graduates, including repeaters, took the two-day Nursing Licensure Examination administered by the PRC.
Many nurses and midwives have been driven to perform all sorts of jobs, mostly in services, that have nothing to do with their profession, according to Romulo.
Meanwhile, Romulo wants Congress to restore to Salary Grade (SG) 15—the equivalent of P24,887—the entry-level basic monthly pay of public nurses.
The Nursing Law of 2002, or Republic Act 9173, pegged the starting pay of public nurses at SG 15, but the Salary Standardization Law III effectively downgraded their rating to SG 11, or P18,549.
The government should put more money into the country’s health program to hire our unemployed nurses (and other health professionals) and put them to work in urban and rural communities that lack primary health care, as well as give them the salary they truly deserve.
Congress could allocate money so that our nurses can practice their vocation and put the long hours they spent studying to good use.
Let us help our nurses help our fellow Filipinos get the health care they deserve.
We have many communities where Filipinos die without ever seeing a health professional.
The World Health Organization recommends a nurse-patient ratio of one nurse per four patients but even our biggest hospitals can’t meet that. Official data says the country‘s ratio stands at 1:25 for the Philippine General Hospital. Hospitals in the provinces have more dismal figures, such as 1:45 in Davao del Sur.
We need nurses in our hospitals and health centers now more than ever.