The Life and Times of Florence Knitingale

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Caution: Rant Ahead

I was reading the paper this morning and I read an article about a doctor from the Phillipines who has immigrated to America (legally) and become a nurse here because he can make significantly more money. One reason that it was possible is that our government has loosened restrictions, allowing unlimited immigration of nurses to help offset the current shortage (1700 openings for nurses in Seattle alone).

First let me say this: I am no racist. I'm not going to get up on some sort of soapbox about how "real" Americans are getting cheated out of jobs. The man immigrated legally--he's a real American. I think it's great, and an example of the pioneer spirit upon which this nation was founded that he can realize a dream and improve his life. And obviously, we need him. But here are my issues:

1. America does indeed have a staggering nursing shortage. Huge. But America also has a huge number of people--hundreds of thousands--who want to be nurses but can't get into a program because there are so few openings for student nurses. Between 200 and 500 people will likely apply to my school this Spring; only 30 will get in. The rest will have to wait for next year and then may still not get in. This is just one school. There are several colleges in our area alone that have the same kinds of numbers. If there are 10 schools here with nursing programs, and all of them have 300 applicants, that's what--2700 possible nurses being turned away. And that's only Seattle.

2. The Phillipines have an even worse shortage of healthcare professionals--doctors and nurses alike. Already, people there have to travel huge distances to get any care at all. They apparently tried to get doctors to sign a pledge agreeing to stay in the country for 3 years but less than half of them agreed to sign it. At the rate that their people are coming here, they will be in dire straits in very short order. And that's only the Phillipines.

See where I'm going with this? The American government, given the twin problems of too few nurses and too many people who want to be nurses came up with this solution: let's get nurses from other countries! What?? I need x, there's a ton of x right I'm going to go somewhere else and steal someone else's x? A three-year-old has better problem solving capabilities than this.

There are recruiters who meet foreign nurses at airports, take them to cramped, rather horrible living quarters, get them jobs at nursing homes, and leave them to function. In the Phillipines, a doctor makes maybe $300 a month. A registered nurse in this country on average makes $4000 a month. The article didn't say how much this nurse (a doctor in his own country, remember--he was going to be a much needed neurologist and was, in fact, the top doctor in his country) is getting paid, but I'll bet it ain't no $4000. That's one of the problems that occurs frequently with imported labor--it's too easy to pay them way more than they're used to without actually paying them what they're worth. Exploitation, we call it.

And then there's the matter of the country left behind. How long, I wonder, before we start holding fundraisers for the people in the Phillipines who lack basic health care? How long before we're sending groups of doctors and nurses there on mercy missions because all their best people came here? Irony, anyone? Careful--it's the bitter kind.

It is the arrogance of the United States government yet again. It is expensive to solve the real problem--specifically, lack of available training for nursing students--so we'll just encourage other countries to give us their people. Who cares if those countries suffer, if people die from lack of health care? We're America--who matters more than us? We're the most powerful country in the world...who's going to stop us?

Have you ever seen someone with one pretty good car cannabalize a not so good car in order to put the parts in the good one? The cannabalized one always ends up in the junkyard when the mechanic is through with it. That's what we're doing to countries less developed than our own, and I am ashamed of us for it. They are not less worthy than we are, but we are treating them as if they were. I want the government to step up. I want them to see why we have a nursing shortage and work to solve that problem where it starts. How about funding more nursing education? How about funding colleges to pay nursing educators more money (they can make more money nursing than they can teaching....which is why it's so hard to find teachers)? How about funding the creation of schools just for nursing? How about accepting the truth that we will have to spend money to fix this problem of our healthcare system, which right now is sinking like a brick in a water tank?

Even better: how about taking responsibility for our own problems and deciding to solve them at no one else's expense?

Now that would really be news.


  • At 6:47 PM, Blogger Marianne said…

    An issue well worth ranting about indeed...honey, you need to send this letter to every politician in your state...send it to DC...keep sending it, along with the news article. I'm not shitting you, do it. Be dauntless.
    What they are doing is wrong.
    "When something's not right, it's wrong" Robert Zimmerman aka (well, we know who this is, eh?..Bob Dylan

  • At 7:14 PM, Blogger Faren said…

    Mrs. K, I agree with you so much I don't have much to add. Mom's nursing school didn't have that bad a ratio of applicants to openings, but it was there. Also, there was no finacial help, and we were a struggling family of four.

  • At 7:24 PM, Blogger Kit said…

    That is truth right there. But see, better funding to educate nurses to help with the nursing shortage is far too logical. Not to mention, it's not an immediate solution. We're putting a bandaid on a hemorrhaging artery. Finger in the dam. Long term solutions are not what people tend to want. They want instant gratification. And that's the way the politicians will continue to play the cards.

  • At 11:23 PM, Blogger Vintageme said…

    Sounds the same as here Florence..Ghana and many other countries have a massive doctor shotage cos they are all here.To be honest I prefer a nurse who can speak English really well and they are hard to find. Reading has any spare Polish citizen ...and so what the heck happened to builders here ..answer they cost more . So are we happy to have English citizens un-employed because they are undercut ..well hell no! Next thing you know our very hard-working Pakistani families will find another lot of immigrants are opening corner shops and under-cutting them .They are aprt of our old Empire at least .We now seem to have to have any member of the E.U ..and Romania and some other ex-Soviet mess just joined the E.U .I am pretending to be Holly cos Blogger hates me signing in as anything other .angie

  • At 10:09 AM, Blogger Kitty Mommy said…

    I agree with your rant, but would like to add one more item. When my husband was in nursing school, there was a huge application to opening ratio, but it wasn't because the school only wanted a few students, it was because of how difficult it was to recruit and retain faculty. The same socio-economic conditions that led to the nursing shortage in the first place has also resulted in an even greater shortage of people willing and able to instruct future nurses.


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