Bid to make career a healthier prospect

Alternative career options and a lingering negative image of nursing as a profession mean take-up among locals continues to be poor.

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ABU DHABI // Experts say a bid to make nursing more attractive as a career is encouraging more into the workforce, but Emiratis form only a minority of those considering a job in care.

According to the latest figures published by the International Nursing Review, the UAE has an estimated 316 nurses per 100,000 members of its population – better than the Eastern Mediterranean region average (180 nurses per 100,000) but ­almost three times fewer than in countries such as Canada (929 nurses per 100,000) and well below half the nursing capacity of the UK (880 nurses per 100,000).

While experts believe interest in entering the profession is growing, many areas are still suffering a severe shortage of nurses. That is one reason why UAE nationals are being urged to consider nursing as a career and to help plug crucial gaps in the country’s health network.

“The shortage of nurses overall seems to be less now than, say, 10 years ago,” said Richard Caldwell, of Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi. “The UAE has emerged as a regional leader in providing high-quality health care and has attracted talented and well-educated nurses from around the globe, while nursing has become more attractive, with improved salaries, time off for professional education and opportunities for promotion.

“However, certain subspecialties of nursing – including paediatrics, critical care and midwifery – tend to be in short supply in the UAE, along with the rest of the world.”

Mr Caldwell said Emirati nur­ses were an “important and growing” element of the UAE’s overall nursing workforce, and believed the number had increased from a handful 20 years ago, to more than 1,000 today.

However, many UAE nationals still do not consider nursing a suitable career path – partly because the development of the ­nation has opened up a range of alternative fields for women to make their mark in, he said.

“I believe that women are able to succeed in all professions at all levels of society in the UAE, and these alternatives may take potential nurses away from the nursing career path,” Mr Caldwell said. “But the image of nursing internationally is improving yearly and the career path has become bright for the young nurses of today.”

Elsa Oommen, chief nursing executive of accreditations at VPS HealthCare, said the UAE had suffered a marked shortage of nurses until 2014, and while the unification of licences across the country and improved pass-rate resources helped to address this, there had been “no remarkable improvement” in the number of Emiratis entering nursing.

She said more needed to be done to encourage Emiratis to enter nursing or midwifery, including the provision of a wider range and scope of practices.

But she also marked out poor pay, unsociable working hours and weekend and public holiday working as deterrents.

“We also strongly believe that the image of nursing needs changing – from receiving orders, to autonomy and self-respect – to make the career path more attractive,” she said.

Of the 7,000 nurses working for Seha across the country, just 1.6 per cent are Emiratis, meaning the UAE relies heavily on foreign-trained medical staff.

Magi Livadaris, vice president of clinical operations at Amana Healthcare, believes more Emirati nurses would be “especially effective” in areas such as community-based care “where the cultural and social elements of care make a big difference, to ­local families in particular”.

Nursing was recognised as a national priority in 2013 and the establishment of the UAE Nursing and Midwifery Council has helped to promote and advance nursing and midwifery services.