Analyzing the Philippines’ “Surplus” of Nurses

Pinoy Nurses

Image lifted from the Philippine Star website

There is a vicious cycle in our society. It comes around, hits you, and you don’t even know what hit you and why.

This big problem that we have in our society is so complex and pervasive that we do not really know the root cause of our problems anymore. Every problem becomes a chicken-egg question.

Such is the case of the current massive unemployment of our nursing graduates. Who’s to blame on this one?

There are conflicting data as to how many nurses are unemployed or underemployed. Some say it’s about 80,000 to 100,000. Other government agencies put the figure at about 400,000. The Alliance of Young Nurse Leaders & Advocates International estimates that it is about 200,000. At any rate, it is undeniable that there is a huge surplus of nurses in the Philippines.

Or is there really a surplus?

To answer the question, let us have a statistical approach.

From the year 2000, the 491 nursing schools in the country had produced about 2 million nursing students. As to the actual number of nurses, there are conflicting claims. Even  government agencies give out different figures. Like the Department of Labor which states that since 1952, there were only about 480,000 registered nurses (so less those who are already dead, DOLE is implying that there are less than 480k RNs). But if you’d look at the yearly passing rate (avg. 42%) computed against the number of yearly board takers (avg. 76,000), the modest estimate by the government is way too low. Based on actual yearly figures, there should be around 500k nurses (please feel free to click on my sources below).

The government usually downplays the data of unemployed nurses, but independent agencies usually give us a more rational data based on numbers supported by figures provided by the PRC.

Anyway, the bottom line is, we produce too many nurses. Too many that they outnumber the job openings for them. And we are only talking about those who pass the board exam. How about those who failed? It’s not hard to discern that more than a majority of those failed will find themselves unemployed too.

Like I said in my article, “On Working Overseas…“, the number of Filipino youth taking up nursing is way too much. The nursing boom, as far as I can remember started in the early 2000s. At that time, a lot of parents advised their kids to take up nursing albeit the high cost of sending one student to nursing school. Since then, even though the nursing boom is long gone, there are still many college taking up nursing. In 2012 alone, it was estimated that the number of nursing graduates peaked at 200,000.

This issue can be attributed to a lot things like misinformation, failure by the parents to discern what’s best for their kids, failure on the part of the students to discern what’s best for them, failure on the part of the government to regulate, and failure on the part of the schools to regulate.

Nursing is one of the most expensive college degrees in the Philippines. That’s why I find it unbelievable for nurses to claim that they want this job so that they can better their living standards. These guys already have the money. They must be from well-to-do families considering that they can afford it. Sure there are scholarships out there, but not everyone can claim that went through an expensive nursing degree by way of scholarships.  And it is more unlikely for them to claim that they take up nursing because they want to serve our country’s dire health care system.

But really, the main reason for the nursing craze is that these people want to earn big bucks abroad. You see, we have this “maging praktikal, kumita ng dolyar” mentality. It’s as if all our hopes in making it big is found abroad. Money is the number one motivation in all these.

Recently, PNoy said that a majority of Filipino’s working abroad are there because they want to, and not because they need to. Which is true. I mean, a lot of these nurses put themselves into this position. The surplus in nurses is already an issue as early as 2006, yet students are taking up nursing by the hundreds of thousands every year since 2006. If you’re 16 or 17 years old, you should be responsible enough to be aware of these economic facts of life regardless of what your parents say. What you think is practical might end up being the wrong choice – just as is the case in this one.

However, let’s flip our looking glass and look at the issue in another view.  Again, let us have a statistical approach.

Ideally, there should be at least 80 practicing nurses for every 10,000 population in a country. So in our country of 98 million, if we are to have an ideal health care system, we should have at least  784,000 practicing nurses in the Philippines.  But right now, we have only 17 practicing nurses for every 10,000 population – way below the ideal figure.

[We have an estimated 500k nurses. About 90k are abroad, and 166k are employed here – so that leaves us with about 244k unemployed nurses! And this is close to the estimate provided by the Alliance of Young Nurse Leaders & Advocates International as I mentioned earlier in this article]

The lack of practicing nurses can be attributed to the lack of hospitals being constructed for the public. If we have no hospitals, who can employ these nurses? It is but natural for them to look for jobs abroad or be underemployed here.

And whose job is it to build hospitals for the public? It is the government.

Certainly, the government is not doing its job on this one. And sadly, health care is not one of the priority projects of the government so it may be decades before we can finally solve this “surplusage” of nurses. (Even the private sector does not build that much hospital here because they do not see a market for it – considering that a majority of the country still rely on quack doctors, arbularyos, tawas, and other traditional medicine for their health care. But why do people rely on those? – Again, the vicious cycle of things here in the Philippines – lack of education, poverty, etc.)

Right now, there are about 2,300 hospitals in the Philippines. If on average, a hospital can employ a 100 nurses (volunteers and paid), we will need an additional 2,440 hospitals to accommodate all the currently unemployed and underemployed nurses. And there’s a slim chance of this happening so I’d really like to advice the incoming high school graduates to avoid taking up nursing unless you are willing to take the risk. Really, as much as it is good to be practical, it is better to be critical with the choices you make. Get as much information as possible before choosing a career path.

So, going back to the question, do we really have a surplus of nurses?

I guess the answer is yes and no. It is a yes because obviously, we lack nurses servicing our countrymen. In reality, there should be a high demand for nurses domestically – that is if we want to improve our health care system (doctors too of course). We lack nurses, but that could be avoided if only we can employ our own nurses given the fact that there is really a massive supply of nurses here.

The answer only becomes a no because well, as much as there are willing nurses there, there’s simply no hospital to accommodate them, even if they’d volunteer for the work.

The only conclusion I can get from this is that, both the government and most of the nurses are to be blamed on this dilemma. The government –  for not being able to keep up with its obligation and the nurses for not being critical during their college days. And most nurses – because of a lack of informed decision-making on their part. We can’t put the blame entirely on either side. Like I said, if you have finished high school, you should be mature enough to think for yourself. Before choosing a course, you should do your research first. Back in my 4th year high school, we were given some test to determine the best career for us – to help us decide which college course we should take. Sadly, most of my batch mates heed what their parents told them.

Also, take a look at this graphic from Carl Balita:

Carl Balita Stat on Nurses





















About the author

Howard Chan (The Student)

Howard considers himself as an armchair activist. Though his street rally days are in a slumber he still advocates changes via social media. He is a strong believer that awareness of various social issues is a good starting point in order to break out from the stranglehold of an oppressive system which only benefits the few. He is also a full time student and a part time blogger, part time web designer, part time web manager/designer for various clients. (Note: Howard Chan passed the 2014 Bar Exams and was admitted to the Philippine Bar on April 29, 2015. That being, all posts after April 29, 2015 authored by him are now under the name Howard Chan for the purpose of distinguishing posts he made as a non-lawyer from posts he made after admission to the bar).

1 comment

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