First published on Blogwatch.ph
Signboards of nursing schools and review centers across the metro tell the same tale: enroll in a nursing school, pass the licensure examination, and you’re off to a high-paying work abroad.
Behind this induced fantasy, jobless Filipino nurses continue to swell year-on-year while those less unfortunate find work not in hospitals but somewhere else.
The Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) reported that there are around 200,000 licensed nurses who are jobless as of last year. This represents 7 percent of the total 2.86 million unemployed in 2010. Alarmingly, this also reflects 75 percent of the 261,247 licensed nurses produced by the country from 2005 to 2009.
Last Saturday, the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) announced that 29,711 new nurses will join the labor force as it released the results of the December 2010 Nurse Licensure Examinations. This is lower compared to the 37,679 examinees who passed the July licensure examinations last year.
Combining the July and December 2010 figures, the country produced 67,390 new licensed nursing graduates in five months alone. Expectedly, this surge of new licensed nurses will increase the ranks of the unemployed.
On an average, 10,000 Filipino nurses leave the country every year. But due to the economic slump and stricter migration rules in some countries, overseas deployment of nurses has dropped.
Shortage amid oversupply
Undeniably, we have an oversupply of nurses in the country. Despite this, nursing schools of fancy names continue to mushroom, nursing false hopes about the career. From about 170 in 2003, the number of nursing schools leaped to 472 in 2010 according to the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA). And yet the passing rate in the nursing licensure examinations since 2003 has remained below 50 percent.
The situation doesn’t become less worrisome with the Aquino administration’s hefty cuts for public hospitals and indigents in the 2011 national budget, further limiting local opportunities for nursing graduates.
The government approved only P30 billion for health services, or only a third of P90 billion that is realistically required for the public health sector.
Quite alarmingly, the plantilla positions for nurses have remained the same despite the increase in the population and the oversupply of nurses in the country. Not surprisingly, our healthcare system is in a state of decay through the years.
Last year, 200 hospitals shut down while another 800 became partially operational due to the lack of nurses and doctors. Worse, most of these hospitals are concentrated in the remote countryside where health care is sorely needed.
But why then is local employment unattractive for nursing graduates? Some would say nursing graduates are too picky. Why wouldn’t they when they are taught to “invest” in their career, shelling out thousands for four years, paying exorbitant fees, and yet nursing jobs at home would render them worse than a minimum wage earner?
Based on the data from the Bureau of Employment and Labor Statistics (BLES), a professional nurse in a private hospital earns on an average only around P9,867, or P379.50 a day. This is below the highest prevailing minimum wage at the moment which is P404 at the National Capital Region.
‘Free labor for a fee’
For government hospitals, it’s even much worse. An investigative report by GMANews.tv published yesterdayrevealed that public hospitals are accepting newly licensed nurses as volunteers who provide free labor and pay the ridiculous “training fees.”
It was the national president of the PNA, Teresita Barcelo, who admitted that through the “volunteer nurse scheme,” hospitals are able to cut costs while generating revenues from the fees collected from overworked volunteer nurses or nurse trainees. As precisely described by GABRIELA party-list, this is no less than exploitation of Filipino nurses, which President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III should stop.
Indeed, it is utterly bothersome for the government to tolerate such practice even as those in the PNA admitted that it is an open secret in the industry for years.
Square peg in a round hole
While playing blind, mute and deaf to this brutal volunteer for a fee scheme, the government has even moved to contort jobless Filipino nurses to fit jobs which they do not aspire in the first place.
Ridiculously enough, the Aquino government, in partnership with corporations and private groups, has embarked on a entrepreneurship program for jobless nurses in a bid to trim the growing number of unemployed nursing graduates. In fact, a Nurse Entrepreneurship Seminar is scheduled this Thursday (though slots are limited).
Well, there’s nothing wrong with nurses learning additional skills. But when you have a glaring shortage of nurses locally and the government convinces jobless nurses to be entrepreneurs, that is obviously a problem.
There is also program called Nurses Assigned in Rural Services (NARS) spearheaded by the labor department. The objective, which is to improve health service in rural areas, sounds commendable. But here’s the catch: nursing graduates under the program will only have a job for six months, earning only P8,000 a month. Also, only those who came from the provinces will be accepted for the program.
Two years ago, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) introduced the “practical nursing” which will run for around 12 to 18 months only, again in a twisted attempt to correct the jobs-skills match. A University of the Philippines dean shared in Ellen Tordesillas’ blog that under the program, students will be taught to operate microwave oven and washing machine, with no lessons on anatomy and physiology. In a sense, enrollees are expected to be all-around maids after completing the course to supplement the export domestic helpers abroad.
Healing the healthcare system
President Aquino has often said that a correct diagnosis of a problem leads to correct solutions. In the case of the Filipino nurses’ woes, his government has yet to diagnosis the problem correctly. But as discussed above, the problems of the nursing sector are too clear cut to miss.
To avert the ailing state of nursing graduates, certain policy reforms must be adopted by the Aquino government such as follows:
1) At the immediate, stop the “volunteer for a fee” schemes in public and private hospitals. This is an injustice which only limelight-addicts would try to calendar for a Senate hearing. It has been already confirmed, and the only thing that must be done is to crack the whip on erring hospitals.
2) Promote the local health care service option by providing decent domestic healthcare jobs for nursing graduates, raising salaries of public nurses and urging private hospitals to follow the cue. Nursing graduates deserve more than slave wages.
3) Corollary to the second recommendation is the termination of the labor export policy of nurses. Why peddle Filipino nurses to foreign demand when the local need is very much serious?
4) Increase the budget allocation for the health sector. By doing so, more hospitals can sustain their operations and more job opportunities will be created for nursing graduates.
5) Shut down fly-by-night nursing schools which only aggravate the current nursing situation. The government must also tighten its accreditation process of schools offering healthcare courses.
6) End flexible employment schemes for nursing graduates. Nursing graduates are for hospitals, not for franchising carts or for houses of foreign bosses.