[LETTERS to the editor]A 21st century nursing workforce

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[LETTERS to the editor]A 21st century nursing workforce

While some nurses are looking for jobs, hospitals are experiencing a shortage of nurses. This absurd situation is happening in Korea.

The Korean Hospital Association reported that 85 percent of hospitals across the country are bemoaning a shortage of nurses. However, according to the Korean Nurses Association, nurses in Korea totaled 225,385 at the end of 2006 and 36.8 percent of them, or 75,362 nurses, still remain jobless.

Then what is causing this awkward situation? It is because of inefficient systems and policies regarding employment of nurses. The most problematic one is the wage differential between Seoul and provincial areas. Nurses working for hospitals in Seoul are paid nearly twice more than those working at hospitals in provincial areas. And the shortage of nurses in hospitals in provincial areas is worsening as increasing numbers of nurses prefer jobs in Seoul.

Poor working conditions also play a role in discouraging nurses from serving long. Working hours and workload per nurse are excessive compared to those in other developed countries.

However, there has been no visible effort made by the government or Korean society to improve the situation.

A workforce shortage in hospitals will eventually affect patients. It means that inefficient employment of nurses will lead to denial of the people’s right to health care.

A lack of nurses in hospitals cannot but downgrade the quality of medical services. In order to maintain the quality of medical services, an adequate number of nurses in proportion to the number of patients in hospitals are necessary.

To encourage nurses to return to hospitals, their working conditions must be improved, first of all, with the development of a proper working system benchmarking those in advanced countries.

In addition, society-wide efforts to reestablish career paths for nurses are needed, meaning the development of various fields where nurses can display their abilities. Expanding childcare centers currently held by only 20 percent of hospitals with over 150 beds across the country can be an example.

A new medical service sector for the 21st century, including home care medical services, is also a field in which professional nurses are expected to perform their part effectively.

“Putting a round peg in a round hole” should be applied to nursing circles where nursing workforce demand and supply are out of balance.

The important things to be remembered in carrying out policies regarding employment of nurses are the welfare of nurses and creation of new opportunities in accordance with the changing times.

Kim Jeong-eun, professor, Seoul National University College of Nursing

*e-mail to eopinion@joongang.co.kr or via fax to 82-2-751-9219
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