Will there be fewer nurses in Malaysia by 2020?

Published by on Jan 04, 2017, 04:07 pm

The nursing profession in Malaysia is facing major challenges, increasing the likelihood of a shortage.

Nurses leaving jobs due to low pay

With the growing number of nursing schools between 2005 and 2010, there was concerns over the likelihood of an overflow of nurses in the country. Projections were that there would be approximately 10,000 graduates from nursing schools annually. The Malaysian Nursing Board introduced new regulations in August 2010 which increased the entry requirements for students planning to enrol in a nursing programme from three to five credits.

According to the New Straits Times, this measure has been so effective that it caused enrolment in the field to shrink, thus reducing the number of graduates which turned out to be a real challenge for the healthcare industry.

Ng Kok Toh, an educator in a private college and a professional in the industry for nearly 35 years, said the numbers of students enrolling dropped and there are approximately 3,000 graduates from nursing schools annually.

However, the increase in admission standards isn’t the only contributor. Another factor is the reduction in the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) study loans. Loans given to students were worth RM60,000, but the amount of study loan to BR1M recipients has been reduced to RM38,000. Those who aren’t BR1M recipients received loans of RM20,000 – RM24,000. Given the constant increasing tuition fees, more students aren’t able to afford studying courses like nursing.

Ng said that with more hospitals expected in the country, there could be a severe shortage of nurses as early as 2018. She suspects that the shortage will be so severe and impactful on the healthcare industry, providers may resort to poaching nurses from each other. Additionally, she suspects that Singapore is also effecting the number of nurses in Malaysia. It seems that Singapore is effectively hiring qualified Malaysian nurses.

“Those days, they were particular about taking only experienced nurses but now they are willing to recruit anyone who is qualified, even paying off their bonds.

“But one thing they are very particular about is that the girls must be able to speak English,” she told NST. Malaysian nurses used to go to Saudi Arabia, but now Singapore seems to be the new destination, according to Ng.

Zahrah Saad, another educator at a private university with an experience of 45 years in the field, told NST that the offer of a better salary in Singapore is attracting young qualified nurses from Malaysia. “Sadly, it is just a stopover before they head to Singapore. Singapore is just waiting for them with open arms, more so if they have working experience in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

The shortage is most observed when looking for nurses with a specialisation in Malaysia. According to Zahrah, Malaysia lacks nurses in the fields of oncology, critical care and paediatrics. However, she admits that a detailed study is required to determine the actual numbers.

Zahrah conducted a short survey on the matter and found out that some nurses tend to do double duty to cover the lack of nurses on staff, concentrate on non-nursing functions and filing tasks, which results in distracting nurses from actual patient care duties.

Sheela Devi, lecturer in nursing at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), said that the aging of the baby boomer population and the overall larger population of the elderly will present a challenge to the Malaysian healthcare system and increase the demand for more nurses.

According to Sheela, the demand for nurses is high and is expected to be at 130,000 nurses by 2020. “The data provided in the Malaysian Human Resources for Health Country Profiles for 2014 for the number of nurses in the country showed 64,348 in the public sector and 28,333 in the private sector, totalling 92,681 nurses.”

However, the ratio of nurses to population in the world has changed. According to the World Health Organization’s latest data, the ratio is approximately about one nurse for every 560 people. “Though the ratio of nurses to population has increased tremendously, it is still considered lower than in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.”

“The resolution involves academic-practice partnerships among nursing academic institutions and healthcare providers that can accommodate the capacity to produce well-prepared and ‘practice-ready’ nurses,” Sheela added.

UTAR is planning to construct a 300-bed specialist training hospital in Kampar, Perak to improve training for their students. This hospital is expected to operate in 2020 and will provide affordable medical services to the community.

How can shortage be fixed?

With the possibility of shortage of supply in the country by 2020, there has to be steps in place to address the matter now.

The following is recommended:

  1. Proper research to identify the problems in the industry and fundamental assessment of the working conditions of nurses, hospitals and other facilities.
  2. Creating a supportive environment and improving the pay scheme to retain qualified Malaysian nurses in the country
  3. Increase in PTPTN loan amounts which would allow more students to afford the course
  4. Provide better progression routes for diploma holders for further study
  5. Reduce documentation duties and allow nurses to focus on their actual work, which is patient care
  6. The revision of admission standards is to be considered by the authorities.
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