From Singapore to the UAE, demand for Philippine nurses sparks bidding war amid global talent shortage
- Many countries are stepping up efforts to lure foreign nurses and other medical professionals with promises of expedited visas and better pay
- No nation is better prepared to help the world staff up its hospitals and clinics than the Philippines, the single largest exporter of nurses
“You’ve got this mismatch between the supply of nurses and demand for healthcare,” said Howard Catton, chief executive officer at the Geneva-based ICN. “It has become much more competitive.”
No nation is better prepared to help the world staff up its hospitals and clinics than the Philippines, the single biggest exporter of nurses.
Singapore and the Philippines also opened talks last month on hiring more Filipino nurses and other healthcare workers.
At its annual assembly in May, the WHO asked countries and institutions to ensure they are using ethical recruiting standards so they do not drain nations of critical personnel.
“Without such efforts, market-led and/or pandemic-driven economic demand for international health personnel may have direct or inadvertent consequences on access to health in other countries,” according to the WHO.
Indeed, the Philippines faces a shortfall of nursing staff, and there’s long-standing political debate over whether so many local nurses should be allowed to leave.
Maria Rosario Vergerie, officer-in-charge of the Philippines Health Department, said that the country’s hospitals and clinics have a shortage of about 106,000 nurses, according to the Manila Bulletin. Vergerie wants to retain a cap on the number of healthcare workers allowed to go abroad at 7,500 a year.
Most of the new nursing students, like Torres, have set their sights on foreign shores, with the overseas bidding war for staff seen as a major factor boosting nursing school enrolment.
Phinma Corp., which operates several schools in the Philippines, says the number of freshmen for its four-year nursing programme has jumped nearly 400 per cent since 2019 to about 6,000 students, exceeding its projected target for 2025. Another school, Our Lady of Fatima University, also says nursing enrolment is up.
Torres says her degree will open up opportunities for a higher quality of life, adding that she wants to work in a country with better healthcare systems, hospital equipment and pay.
“It will be very difficult to stay” behind in the Philippines after graduation, said the 19-year-old, who juggles a six-hour round-trip to attend in-person courses at a university in Manila with online coursework at home.
Some experts are warning countries against trying to fix their healthcare staffing shortages with immigration policies alone.
“There’s a large population” of nurses in the Philippines, “but they will not be able to supply nurses for the rest of the world,” said Gaetan Lafortune, a senior economist at the Paris-based OECD. Governments must also spend more to increase wages and educate and train new nurses domestically, he said.
With so much demand, Torres and her classmates expect to have far more options in terms of countries they can work in after graduation, according to Christopher Tan, the head of nursing school operator Phinma’s education unit.