An International Nursing Shortage Leading to a Battle for Nurses

In an effort to address an international nursing shortage, healthcare workers from poorer countries around the world are being outsourced to wealthier ones, according to statements from the World Health Organization (WHO).

During the peak of the pandemic, nurses abandoned their profession due to exhaustion, prompting developed countries—including the United States—to offer incentives such as green cards in lieu of work visas. Today, as nations continue to engage in an international battle for nurses, the WHO is calling out for countries to reduce their reliance on migrant healthcare workers and develop and diversify their own healthcare systems instead. 

Is There an International Battle for Nurses?

Nursing is rated as the most-trusted profession in the United States for 21 years in a row according to Gallup polls. This status is likely due to nurses’ compassionate nature, expertise in healthcare, and commitment to patient care. There is even an International Nurse’s Day, which is devoted to the recognition and support of nurses.

On the flip side, burnout, depression, and empathy fatigue were just a few of the devastating consequences that nurses experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with a nursing shortage that has threatened the healthcare market for years, around 100,000 registered nurses (RNs) stopped working in recent years since the pandemic. Furthermore, research predicts that one-fifth of registered nurses will leave the profession by 2027.

Wealthier nations, such as the United States, began to compete for international healthcare staff by offering enticing incentives like fast-track green card options for nurses in order to fight the healthcare staffing crisis. Poorer countries like the Philippines, where nursing is the biggest export, were (and still are) struggling to hold onto their healthcare workers and prevent “brain drain,” which is a result of moving highly specialized professionals from developing nations to industrialized countries. Unlike international travel nursing, which is often done by nurses in developed countries, “brain drain” is a term used to describe a situation where nursing professionals are taken away from developing countries and sent to developed countries. This migration leads to a lack of skilled nursing staff in underdeveloped countries.

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Additionally, nurses and other healthcare workers have been leaving parts of Africa and Southeast Asia in search of better lives and wages. This migration has involved healthcare personnel moving to richer Middle Eastern and European countries as well as to the United States since the start of the pandemic. It has become a more prominent trend during and after the coronavirus pandemic. Consequently, the fight against a global nursing shortage and an international battle for nurses continues. 

International Nursing Shortage: What the Future Holds

The World Health Organization urges more affluent nations to take into account the long-term repercussions of international recruitment policies. Likewise, the WHO is encouraging greater cooperation to guarantee equitable access to health professionals around the world.

More recently, the United States has temporarily stopped accepting EB-3 visa petitions for foreign nurses and announced that it will not do so again this year. And while this may further exacerbate the domestic nursing shortage, safeguarding fragile healthcare systems in developing countries is a top priority.

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