The number of students opting to study nursing is at an all-time low, leading to concerns over whether the health system can cope with fewer entering the profession.
Nurses feel overworked, burnt out and underpaid, making the profession unenticing for new recruits, according to Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses president Paul Pace.
The exodus of foreign nurses is making the situation even worse as around 400 new nurses per year are required for the health system to run smoothly.
Pace said that according to official figures provided to the union by the health authorities, the number of potential nursing graduates this year stands at around 165, which is far less than the already low average of between 200 and 250 who usually graduate every year.
Of these, 22 already informed their superiors that they will be starting the medical course to become doctors and another 10 said that they intended to go abroad.
Pace said the situation for next year is even more worrying. There are currently 127 students studying nursing and who can potentially graduate as nurses in 2022.
This means that only around 80 to 90 new nurses will graduate, when factoring in those who fail or drop out.
“A far cry from the 400 nurses. What we’ll have would not even be enough to replace the retiring nurses and those leaving the service,” Pace said.
For 2023, the picture seems even bleaker: only 107 graduates which, when factoring in dropouts and failures, means that the intake of new nurses could reach a record of just between 70 and 80.
“Nursing is simply not attractive any longer. The fact that our nurses are so stretched out keeps potential students away from nursing and channels them to other professions where the stress on the job is much less than that of nurses,” Pace said.
Nurses feel overworked, burnt out and underpaid
He noted that nurses had the lowest salaries in the medical profession.
The take-home pay is only inflated because they work on Sundays and feast days.
Sectorial agreements, meant to give nursing the edge over other professions, were neutralised when the other professions were brought in line with nurses when these professions were not facing a shortage.
Moreover, other medical professions have more allowances than nursing.
“If I offer you a salary equivalent to that of a nurse but you only come to the ward, give your service and leave while nurses have to stay in the wards seeing to every other need, would you still want to become a nurse? I don’t think so. This is what is happening to our profession,” he said.
Asked whether the union was re-commending positive discrimination measures, Pace said the solution was to offer something attractive that would entice students, who already had a passion for the health service, to choose nursing.
“People are joining other medical professions because it’s not worth being a nurse,” he added.
Pace said the exodus of foreign nurses was making the situation dire.
One hundred and forty Indian and Pakistani nurses have already left Malta after being poached by the health service in the UK and more are leaving on a daily basis. Last week alone, 16 nurses resigned from Mater Dei Hospital, 13 of whom are foreigners.
He said this exodus was not properly addressed by the health authorities because the international poaching of nurses was not even acknowledged.
“Stressful is an understatement when it comes to nursing. I only come to work because of the passion I still have for the job, although I’ve been doing it for decades. I’m often all alone in the ward, seeing to all those patients’ needs. It gets tiring doing it day-in-day-out. Sometimes I do feel burnt out, but I pull myself together because of my patients who are like family to me.
“I wish we could be given more recognition, not only with better salaries, but more people to spread out the load. At the end of the day, the service to patients will improve.”
“I must admit, if someone thinking about enrolling in the nursing course had to come and ask me for advice, I would tell them to think twice.
“Don’t get me wrong, the job satisfaction when you see patients getting better every day is really uplifting.
“But when you consider all the work that went into it, I don’t think it is rewarding. We need the authorities to get more people on board.
“And they also need to revise our salaries. It’s not fair that we have to work every Sunday and holiday to have a decent sum at the end of the month.”
(*Not their real name.)