ABU DHABI // A serious drive is needed to make the nursing profession more appealing to Emiratis, health officials have said.
Figures revealed at the Abu Dhabi Medical Congress on Sunday show that just 3 per cent of the 23,000 to 25,000 nurses across the emirates were UAE nationals.
There were also calls to “glamorise” nursing to increase its attractiveness as a profession.
While discussions are ongoing to triple the number of Emirati nurses over the next two years, an effort was needed to encourage more to join the nursing workforce, said Noora Abdul Majid Abubaker, a nursing educator at Dubai Hospital.
“The number of Emiratis working in the nursing profession is very, very low and this needs to be addressed,” said Ms Abubaker, speaking at the fourth Nursing Conference at the congress.
While just 3 per cent of nurses were UAE nationals, the average was slightly higher in Abu Dhabi at 8 per cent, said the Emirati nursing educator.
“Hopefully this will change in the future,” she said, adding that there were discussions by the Emirates Nursing Association to increase the numbers of Emirati nurses.
Ideally, at least 10 per cent of the nursing workforce would be Emiratis by 2015, she said.
Ms Abubaker believed the promise of career progression and more senior roles would entice more into the profession.
Emilo Galea, head of the nursing education department at Mafraq Hospital, Abu Dhabi, said that old-fashioned views and misconceptions about nursing could be holding back many Emiratis.
“Nursing needs to be glamorised to show that we are a real professional body, that you need to be really proud to be part of,” said Mr Galea, speaking on the first day of the congress at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
“We have to show Emirati youngsters and their families that nursing is actually a profession in its own self in which our young females can grow. Nursing is not just to give care to patients but also an avenue where they can progress to higher levels such as management.
“We are trying to change the perspectives of what some Emiratis think about what nursing is. What we obviously hope is that we will get more and more and more Emiratis – then we can show ... how good it is for them to choose this profession.”
Despite the lack of nurses, Mr Galea felt the standard of care given by those working in the nursing profession had risen steadily over the past five years.
“The quality of nursing practice has gone up to an international level where it makes you so proud that we have such a bunch of people who are really really dedicated to their practice,” he said.
Prof Gwen Sherwood, associate dean for academic affairs at the Chapel Hill school of nursing, University of North Carolina in the US, said a skewed perspective on nursing prevails around the world.
Many people, she said, did not believe it was a career to be proud of.
“That is part of the work of this conference,” she said.
“It requires the best minds, the best thinkers to be able to practise in the holistic way that we are advocating.”
Ms Abubaker said while the number of Emirati nurses was very low, there was a shortfall of nurses in general. “The demand for registered nurses, both Emirati and expatriates, in the country outstrips supply,” she said.
Ms Abubaker is calling on more people to choose the profession she described as a “calling”.
She started in the nursing professional in 2011 and described it as a highly demanding but also rewarding job.
Good quality nurses can make a patient’s ordeal in hospital far more bearable, she said.
“The feeling I get from my patients are wonderful,” said the Emirati, as she shared her experience in the sector to a 1,000-strong audience.
A drawback of so many expatriate nurses was being able to break down local and cultural barriers, she added.
As an Emirati nurse, Ms Abubaker felt she could communicate better with local patients.
“People say to me I understand more what they are going through as a local,” she said.