Thursday, February 11, 2010

the Great Indian Nurse Drain

A big neighborhood hospital near my office is having a strike. The nurses are on strike. A whole bunch of them are sitting hunched up under a tree opposite the hospital gates with slogans and banners. There is shouting or sloganeering and a small posse of police women who have posted in the area are bored to death, because there is nothing happening that demands or needs their intervention. Inside, the hospital looks crowded as usual and I can see a few nurses in their uniforms rushing to and fro, busy as usual. The media has not taken too much note, though a local paper did publish a small column recently mentioning that the strike had entered the 8th day without any resolution in sight.

Come to think of it, in India’s hierarchical and rarefied medical fraternity, nurses don’t unfortunately figure very high for all the hard work they do and for all the skills that they possess. The glamour, the money and the recognition all go to the doctors alone, almost always. For instance, look at this year’s Padma awardees. The list contained the name of the doctor who treated the Prime Minister during his bye pass. The doctor is eminent in his field no doubt, but on his own he could have achieved little. Yet the entire Para medical team consisting of highly skilled technicians and nurses did not warrant any merit or attention.

Many countries now recognize the important role that nurses play and in fact in Europe where immigration rules are otherwise tightening, nurses are still being welcomed with open arms. But in India, there is little appreciation of the career of Nursing and also little effort has been made to challenge the stereotyped image of the servile and inferior position that nurses usually have in society. Though there is great disparity in the pay, position and benefits between the doctors and nurses, they are the key ingredients in the high tech health care world of today

One of the results of the way we treat our nurses is that many of them are migrating in droves to countries where they will be paid better and treated a lot better. The Times of India carried an article some time ago, where it quoted a nursing college principal as saying that 80%--yes, 80%--of her students apply to recruiters for foreign nations. For instance, although Filipinas traditionally filled many nursing vacancies in US hospitals, the trend is now moving toward Indian nurses. "Dr. Mark J. McKenney," a U.S. recruiter who directs Nurses for International Cooperative Exchange (NICE), notes that nurses can earn $50,000 per year in the U.S. according to the same article.

Speaking on the occasion of the National Florence Nightingale Awards last year (possibly the only day we pause for a day to remember nurses!)To mark the International Nurses Day, the President had remarked that it was a matter of pride that the quality and commitment of Indian nurses was getting recognition. She had also commented on the acute shortage of nurses in the country by pointing out that there are about 3.7 lakh nurses in India while the requirement is going to be about 10.5 lakh nurses by 2012. But dreaming of filling up this gap may be wishful thinking. While the shortage of nurses is a global phenomenon, most other countries have realized their worth and treat them well as pay them better. We are falling short on both counts.


The unsure ascetic said...

very well said sir, but I strongly feel that nursing came naturally to people earlier and with passing time, the need for nursing in this competitive world has gone down considerably. The working mothers and fathers can hardly ever nurse a child when he/she is ill and needs them the most. Nursing seems to have lost its noble value just like school teaching. Unless we bring back the respect to these professions and start respecting their services, the consequences are dangerous.

Alblog said...

You are mistaken