Addressing the country's severe shortage of nurses

HR professionals in the sector should be doing more to make the career appealing to young people.

One of the biggest challenges to the provision of health care in South Africa is the dire shortage of trained health workers. This is especially the case in the public-sector where, for every 1000 people, the country has less than one doctor available, according to the World Health Organisation.

Depending on the report that once reference, the shortage ranges between 40 000 and 80 000. A study by Prof Laetitia Rispel entitled ‘Nursing: a Profession in Peril’, nursing "is fraught with resource, management and quality of care problems". She points to "poor staying power, low energy levels, abuse of leave, suboptimal nursing care, split loyalties and accountability and erosion of professionalism".

This massive shortage can largely be attributed to the lack of training and education for nurses in South Africa.

HR professionals within the healthcare sector have to take some responsibility for the low number of young people who aspire to be nurses. Graduate recruitment teams should be going finding young people and articulating employee value proposition for a nurse. There are many career routes within the healthcare profession that start with becoming a nurse. If someone is passionate about the clinical side of the hospital, they can specialise to become an ICU nurse, which is a highly remunerated role. They could also go into education or, if they are so inclined, they can join hospital management and work their way up to becoming an executive.

The biggest plus is that, no matter what is happening with the economy, nursing is one of those professions in which one can virtually guarantee that they will never be out of a job.

In fact, with the current shortages, nurses never have to retire. If healthy, they are often contracted by private healthcare companies to assist during times of need. Furthermore, international companies like Netcare and Mediclinic offer opportunities to go and work overseas, where there are also shortages of nurses.

Put simply, there are many advantages to being a professional nurse and HR professionals have to make a greater effort to enhance the appeal of a nursing career if the country is to make any inroads towards addressing the massive shortage of nursing staff.