Demand for Philippine nurses: Here we go again

By BusinessMirror Editorial
The headline from the BBC story read “Nursing Dream Turns Sour in the Philippines”.

“At the beginning of this year, more than 200,000 registered Philippine nurses could not find work, and an estimated 80,000 are graduating this year to join an already saturated job market. Western countries were not hiring, so they’re all now stuck in the Philippines. A decade ago, it all seemed so simple. Would-be nurses, most, but not all, of whom were female, studied and worked for a few years in the Philippines before taking up far more lucrative jobs abroad.” That was on July 5, 2012.

Now at the beginning of 2017, the headlines read ( “United Kingdom Needs More Filipino Nurses” and from The Atlantic magazine “The US Is Running Out of Nurses”.

The normal boom-bust business cycle almost always creates a situation where excess demand creates a shortage of supply. Realizing the opportunities to fill that demand, supply often increases to the point of overshooting the demand. The equilibrium between demand and supply is rarely exactly in balance for an extended period.

During the early part of the 21st century, there was a great demand for Filipinos abroad. While superbly qualified for call-center positions, many large outsourcing companies found that hiring newly graduated nurses was a losing proposition. Many were taking employment only while waiting for overseas deployment.

Out of the 21,500 foreign-trained registered nurses who sat for the United States Certification Program Nurse Qualifying Exam in 2005, 55 percent were educated in the Philippines.

Then the pendulum went the other way. Nursing schools seemed to spring up on every corner, creating excess supply. Further, many of these schools that wanted to capitalize on the industry turned out unqualified graduates who were unable to find foreign jobs and were barely suitable for local employment.

Now demand in the foreign markets is rising once again. From The Atlantic: “America’s 3 million nurses make up the largest segment of the health-care work force, and nursing is currently one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country. Despite that growth, demand is outpacing supply. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.2 million vacancies will emerge for registered nurses between 2014 and 2022.”

The demand for qualified nurses in the United Kingdom is becoming severe enough that the UK is lowering the minimum standard for its International English Language Testing System. And the demand is for the most lucrative paying jobs. From “Philippine Labor Attaché Joan Lavilla said nurses will be needed in the fields of cardiology, critical care, cardiac surgery, cardio thoracic, coronary care and catheter lab, and theater practitioners.”

This is obviously a good development for those young Filipinos who wish to pursue a health-care career. It may also signal a longer-term trend. The Atlantic magazine reports that “by 2025, the shortfall is expected to be more than twice as large as any nurse shortage experienced since the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s.” Further, “between 2010 and 2030, the population of senior citizens will increase by 75 percent”.

However, the caution once again is that the government must be vigilant in monitoring the educational standards provided to our nurses. We cannot allow the same failures that occurred in the past. While it is all well and good that many foreign health care-providing institutions prefer that Filipinos fill the nursing positions, competition from Sri Lanka, India and many African countries is growing. We cannot be complacent as we were before.

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