ABU DHABI // The country's three nursing schools are trying new ways to address a shortage of Emiratis in the profession, including seeking financial backing for new scholarship programmes.
Bassamat Omar, head of the health sciences department at the University of Sharjah, where Emiratis account for half of students in the nursing programme, said engaging funding agencies to sponsor students throughout their education may have a role in increasing the numbers of Emirati nurses.
Meanwhile, Pamela Cawley, the head of health sciences at the Higher Colleges of Technology, said the institution is looking for funding partners to offer stipends and scholarships to potential nursing students still in high school.
This year has seen an increased interest from foundation courses at the Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah campuses of HCT, with 40 students saying they would like to enrol in the nursing programme in Abu Dhabi, which currently has just 10 students and has graduated only 20.
Ms Cawley said the increased interest is the result of Arabic-speaking nursing school graduates engaging with the female school pupils to promote the profession, in which an estimated five per cent are Emirati.
"The girls need role models," said Ms Cawley. "Business and engineering have traditionally been the areas where the students were targeted. There was a misconception there weren't the jobs for them in nursing."
A key point in reaching out to future students is instilling a sense of national service, Ms Cawley added.
"Stipends are great, but if they're just coming in for the money, we lose them. They have to feel it's rewarding. It's not what a lot of people think it is. It's tough, technically and scientifically it's highly challenging."
Ms Omar said an additional factor that could account for the shortage of Emiratis is the lack of a unified registration and licensing system, poor working conditions and unclear job descriptions.
"The performance of non-nursing jobs very often demoralises the professional nurses and it is one of the reasons for dropping out from the profession," she said.
This year they admitted just eight new bachelor's students to the programme which launched in 2000, taking the total to just 20.
Ms Omar said recent initiatives are slowly helping overcome the challenges, including the establishment of the Emirates Nursing Association (ENA) and membership of the International Council of Nurses in 2004, which both boosted nursing morale. She said: "It's a powerful indicator that nursing is ready to move forward. As part of its strategic objectives, the ENA endeavours to enhance the image of nursing in the UAE and to improve the recruitment and retention of nationals into the nursing services."
The Institute of Nursing in Dubai, owned by Dubai Health Authority, closed in 2005 after 32 years.
Ajman University gained accreditation for a nursing programme from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, but found there would not be the demand to justify the cost.
Nurses who wish to upgrade their nursing diplomas to bachelor's degrees can do a bridging programme. The RAK Medical and Health Science University (RAKMHSU), gives all students a 50 per cent discount on the Dh7,500 per semester fees in the bridging programme.
Abdullah Elmi is one of the few men taking up nursing. The 19-year-old Somalian, who was born in Abu Dhabi, says his sister is a nurse and his brother, like him, is studying nursing at RAKMHSU.
Each year since the bachelor's programme launched in 2007, the university has offered 25 scholarships giving free study to lure students, but this year, just 10 have enrolled - and none are Emirati.
"My parents encouraged me to do this," said Mr Elmi. "It's a good career and the job is well paid. People respect nurses and I want to help people."
Vijaya Kumardhas, dean of the College of Nursing, said: "It's really important to have male nurses. People think it looks out of place but it is very valuable. There are of course problems in the sense that they cannot get access to all areas when dealing with local women; they don't want them dealing with gynaecology and obstetrics, but things will change."
Gurumadhva Rao, the vice chancellor, said: "Everybody here wants good nurses but parents don't want to send their children to be a nurse. People don't want to contribute. They want them to be doctors or engineers."