x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The nation needs new Nightingales

The plan to recruit nurses from overseas is only part of the solution. Medical specialisation programmes would make nurses more capable – and encourage Emiratis to enter the field.

It was aboard a ship on the Nile where that advocate of modern, specialised nursing, Florence Nightingale, supposedly received her calling. More than a century later, the region needs more women and men to be struck by a similar epiphany.

As The National reported yesterday, new hospitals and clinics that are opening this year are aggravating a nationwide shortage of nurses. Like many other countries, the UAE is seeking to recruit nurses from overseas. But ambitious plans in national health care will depend not only on recruitment, but also on skill development and training.

Last year, the Ministry of Health set up a Nursing and Midwifery Council to oversee the field, and recruiters have been tasked to hire hundreds of staff from the Philippines, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and India. A Ministry delegation conducted interviews and tests overseas for more than 200 applicants.

That level of foresight should underpin the entire health-care project. The goal is not just to recruit nurses from abroad, but also to encourage Emiratis to enter the profession. The effort is being held up because many Emiratis see a lack of opportunity in the field.

Those fears are, at least in part, justified. One 23-year-old Emirati nurse expressed her disappointment: "We were being told it is a very attractive profession and very easy to find a job and go far, but this is not what we experienced." Another nurse knew of only one regional centre in Saudi Arabia that provided an opportunity for nurses to specialise.

The medical profession is changing fast. Duties that were allocated to nurses in Nightingale's time are now the province of medical assistants. A highly skilled nurse should be nearer the top of the medical profession, having more in common with physicians than menial staff.

New specialised hospitals and clinics will need staff trained in fields as diverse as intensive care to paediatrics. There is some recognition of this - a forum on medical specialisation at the American Hospital in Dubai tomorrow will raise the same issues.

But there is a disconnect between means and goals. Recent cutbacks in the health-care budget will affect recruitment and specialisation programmes, not to mention general health care, particularly in the Northern Emirates. Nurses who have found their vocation deserve our full support.