News | Sunday, 12 July 2009
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Nurses’ recruitment drive hampered by numerus clausus

Health ministry aims for 240 new nurses by 2012, but the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses warns that 1,000 will be required by 2013

The health ministry wants to attract more people to the nursing profession, but the University of Malta will not be able to take in more than 140 students every year.
Parliamentary Secretary for Health Joe Cassar says he wants to see 240 new nurses by 2012. But the target falls short of that touted by nurses’ union boss Paul Pace, who claims the health system requires 1,000 nurses by 2013.
Pace and the entire nurses’ union were however away at an overseas nursing conference, and missed out on Cassar’s launch of the media campaign.
For the first time ever, the government is actively trying to recruit more nurses. For years the university course had been limited to an intake of just 100 students every year, to the consternation of the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses.
But Cassar admits that the Institute of Health Studies will not be able to take in more than 140 for the next course.
“This is due to the logistics involved in the practical side of the course as well as because of the academic staff available,” Cassar said. “If we get a response exceeding 140, the reality is that we cannot take the extra demand. We would then have to select according to qualifications. But I wish we had this kind of response. If we do, I will start thinking outside of the box to find a solution.”
Cassar’s media campaign hopes to recruit 140 nursing students for the next academic year, 40 more than those registering for either the diploma or the bachelor nursing course last year.
Since migration to Mater Dei two years ago, the MUMN has called on government to act fast on the shortage of nurses. A collective agreement negotiated in 2007 with the nurses established that by the end of the year, budgets would be allocated to market the profession.
But MUMN president Paul Pace complained soon after that the union had not been yet given the money.
So had the government finally had a change of heart in its attitude towards the nursing shortage?
“A change of heart? No,” Cassar replied. “I would say it was more of a change in strategy because the heart has always been there.”
“This is an operational issue. We have recently reformed nursing courses to make them more attractive and we pushed to be able to recruit more academic staff for the course so we can take in more students… my calculation is that if everything goes as planned and if there is a good response to this campaign, in three years’ time, we will have 240 new nurses.”
Cassar also said the government is also recruiting nurses from abroad. “Although in this area one has to realise that, say a Romanian nurse, would have other options in other countries for the same job.”
However government has not looked into introducing higher stipends at this stage. Cassar said this may be considered “if the steps we have already undertaken do not work.”
Cassar had no figures at hand when asked to quantify how much the advertising campaign will cost.
“Nursing is a career for life,” he said. “There is a major shortage of nurses worldwide, so one obvious advantage is the job security this profession brings with it. Whoever chooses the nursing profession may put his mind at rest.”
On her part, IHS Head Roberta Sammut said the campaign is aimed at attracting interest among youths, “but also among those aged 23 years and over who may not be happy in their current job and are looking for a more satisfying career.”
The campaign will consist of TV and radio adverts and letters sent to homes of prospective students. A stand will be set up at Mater Dei between 13 and 19 July, where anyone interested is welcome to go and meet academic staff.
“The courses are very interesting. They not only focus on academic training but also on personal development. We have reduced the length of the course to three years because our methodology takes a more integral approach now,” Sammut said.
The course includes both theory and practice – with experience in primary healthcare, childcare and with mental health patients.
“Also, due to our contacts abroad, each of our students may have the opportunity to spend a semester at a university abroad,” Sammut added. “Nursing is not a homogenous profession. Graduates may focus on education, health promotion, technology in intensive care, children and many other areas.”
Applications opened already and close on 26 July. So far, only about 30 prospective students applied.

Nursing a grudge

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