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DOH: 124,000 nurses jobless, underemployed

Helen Flores, Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star
DOH: 124,000 nurses jobless, underemployed
Third year nursing students of University of Perpetual Help System receive their caps and pins during the university's 43rd thanksgiving and commitment rites at Ernesto Crisostomo Palanca Hall in Las Piñas City on June 21, 2023
STAR / Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — There are about 124,000 licensed and registered Filipino nurses who are jobless, underemployed or are doing non-related work, a lawmaker said recently, citing data from the Department of Health (DOH).

“The DOH should track these nurses down and try to convince a majority of them who are unemployed to work in government hospitals as a way to start reversing the worsening nursing shortage in the country,” Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte proposed.

Villafuerte made the disclosure following attempts by Health Secretary Ted Herbosa to hire nursing graduates who failed the board exams, which the lawmaker described as risky that could end up as “a cure worse than the disease.”

“Nobody knows who among these 124,000 registered nurses as of end-2021 or the almost 30,000 new nursing board passers are still out of work or doing non-nursing jobs at this time,” Villafuerte said.

He cited data provided by the government-accredited national association Filipino Nurses United (FNU) showing there are “about 124,000 registered nurses who, as of December 2021, were unemployed, underemployed or doing non-nursing work.”

Villafuerte quoted the FNU as saying that “29,293 nursing graduates combined passed the last two Nursing Licensure Exams – 18,529 in November 2022  and 10,764 in May.”

He said the search for registered nurses and new board passers who are either without jobs yet or doing non-nursing work could be a priority of the National Nursing Advisory Council (NNAC).

“The DOH should also find out who among the almost 30,000 graduates who passed either of the two most recent Nurse Licensure Examination are not yet working,” he said.

The DOH should do its best to convince jobless nursing board passers to fill up the estimated 4,500 nursing vacancies in government hospitals nationwide.

“The immediate hiring of jobless NLE passers and/or already licensed nurses but who are unemployed, underemployed or doing non-nursing jobs is a much better option than Secretary Herbosa’s plan,” Villafuerte said.

Free review

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) will offer free review classes in top universities for nursing graduates to help them pass the board exams and increase the number of registered Filipino nurses, CHED Chairman Prospero de Vera III said yesterday.

During a press briefing at Malacañang, De Vera said the CHED would provide grants to universities for the free review of non-passers working in public and private hospitals.

“Those who didn’t pass will not necessarily be health care assistants. The first intervention is, help them become nurses by helping them review for the licensure test,” De Vera said.

He said private hospitals have committed to pay for the review of their employees who are non-passers.

During the meeting, De Vera presented President Marcos with the agency’s long- and medium-term plans as well as immediate actions to address the nursing shortage.

He said only about 50 percent of nursing graduates pass the licensure test.

“So that’s 50 percent of individuals, graduates, who have been trained in the hospital. They have gone through the program but did not become nurses because they did not pass the licensure test… We will hold special review classes for those employed in DOH-run and private hospitals as aides or assistants, so they can pass the licensure test and we can produce more graduates,” he said.

Among the long-term actions is the lifting of the 10-year moratorium on the creation of new nursing programs.

De Vera said there are 54 universities that applied for opening of nursing programs.

“You lift the nursing moratorium so you will have more schools that will offer nursing programs and produce more graduates. But we don’t have to wait for five, six years to produce more,” he said.

The agency is working with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to train health care and health care associates through a certificate or diploma program, De Vera said.

He said that CHED is also working with the private sector advisory council in the DOH to identify the tasks that nurses should not be doing so they can focus on patient care.

“For example, the regular checking of the (patient’s) blood pressure and temperature… those skills will be produced by a shorter program to produce what we call health care associates and health care assistants,” he said.

Speaking about shortage of Filipino health workers, Marcos said the Philippines has become a victim of its own success.

Marcos made the remark during a meeting with members of the US-based Business Executives for National Security (BENS) at Malacañang on Monday.

“Unfortunately, in terms of health workers, we have become victims of our own success in that the Filipinos did really well during the pandemic,” Marcos said.

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