Wednesday February 8, 2012
Nurse the real issues, not the symptoms
The Star Says
THE latest government statistics show that in 2010, more than 54% of private nursing diploma graduates were not able to find work three to four months after graduating, compared to only 21.7% in 2008.
In that same year, there were 37,702 students enrolled in nursing diploma courses in 61 private institutions of higher learning (IPTS). Each year, some 12,000 will exit into the marketplace but the demand for new nurses in the private sector is only about 1,500 a year.
And if you think it is easier for them to get a job in the public sector, the Health Ministry only hired 438 of these diploma holders in 2010, as it draws its bulk of nurses from public institutions of higher learning.
When it comes to passing the Nursing Board examination, the private sector candidates, though more in numbers, have a lower passing rate.
The conclusion one arrives at from these statistics is that there is a gross mismatch between supply and demand. But that is not the complete picture.
Stories of how these unemployed nurses end up as insurance agents, tuition teachers and sales assistants give this issue a human touch.
We tend to sympathise with them, especially when most of them have study loans to repay. On average, a three-year nursing diploma programme at an IPTS costs about RM50,000. The majority of these students finance their studies through loans from the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN), which means that ultimately this is a problem for taxpayers as well.
From the employers’ side, we also get the other side of the story — about how picky they are, their lack of soft skills, language competency, and their reluctance to serve beyond their own comfort zone. It is clear that many sign up to become nurses but see this simply as a way to earn an income rather than be the Florence Nightingales of today.
All these are but mere symptoms that reflect the lack of coordination among the various parties.
For example, it was in 2010 that the Government put a moratorium on the setting up of private nursing colleges, even though concerns were raised earlier. This is a decision that is akin to closing the stable door after the horses have bolted.
There is now also the requirement for nursing students to have a minimum of five SPM credits instead of three previously. The thinking is that this will bring down the number of students who can enrol for such courses. The question that begs to be answered is: Why the low entry-level requirement in the first place? It is scary to learn that one can even get into such courses without credits in all Science subjects.
It is time that we tackle not only the issue of supply and demand, as dictated by market forces, but also the quality of the nurses and other allied health workers churned out by these colleges.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has offered to create more vacancies in public hospitals to absorb some of these “jobless nurses”. But this short-term solution must not compromise on the standards and give the impression that what is not good enough for the private hospitals is good enough for our public hospitals.
It is time for all parties — the Health Ministry, the Higher Education Ministry, the private colleges and operators of private hospitals — to sit down and get to the crux of the issue. Simply nursing the symptoms is not good enough.