Fewer young people are interested in nursing than before the Covid-19 pandemic, a new report has suggested, with concerns raised over the impact of deteriorating working conditions, pay and the perception of the profession.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published a new report on nursing, following survey data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which suggested a decline in the proportion of 15-year-olds who expect to work as nurses in their adult life.

“We cannot ignore the alarm bells ringing about the lack of action to secure the future of the nursing profession”

Howard Catton

The PISA’s survey found that the share of young people expecting to work as nurses in the 36 OECD countries surveyed fell, on average, to 2.1% in 2022, down from 2.3% in 2018.

The OECD, in its report, noted the decline was particularly notable in the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland.

The report said the Covid-19 pandemic had a “mixed” effect on people wanting to be a nurse.

While there was a renewed perception of nurses as “healthcare heroes”, many people became aware of the “heavy workload” and “physical and mental health risks” involved with the profession, alongside the “relatively low financial reward” offered.

In the UK, a post-pandemic boom in nursing degree applications lasted just one year, after which application numbers fell sharply.

The OECD said that “efforts” were needed by governments to improve both the perceptions and reality of nursing so that young people were not put off at a formative age.

It said improving pay and working conditions would be “key” to restoring interest among young people.

It urged governments to work on improving their domestic nursing pipelines to avoid relying heavily on international recruitment, pointing to positive steps taken by some OECD member states.

These included the publication of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan in England and financial incentives offered to students by countries including Australia and Canada.

However, the OECD said that more needed to be done – and fast – due to the unsustainability of international recruitment.

The report read: “The capacity of some of the key nurse-supplying countries to OECD countries, such as India and the Philippines, to export nurses is not unlimited.

“As these countries continue to grow economically and boost their health spending, their domestic demand for nurses and other health workers will rise, thereby tightening their capacity to make up for the shortfall in other countries.”

Further, the OECD said governments must work to make the nursing profession more interesting to men and boys.

Dr Pamela Cipriano, president of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), and ICN chief executive Howard Catton aired their concerns at the report’s findings.

Howard Catton

“We cannot ignore the alarm bells ringing about the lack of action to secure the future of the nursing profession,” said Mr Catton.

Referring to the gendered nature of the profession, Mr Catton added: “Attracting more men into nursing is not a silver bullet to address the deep-rooted gender inequalities and stereotypes embedded within the nursing profession, but it has to be part of ensuring a future workforce to meet the ever-growing health needs of all people.

“As a nurse, I say to boys and men everywhere, if you want a job where you need to have courage, to be able to deal with complexity and unpredictability, to make critical decisions, show leadership and have the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives, have the courage of your convictions, and choose nursing.”

Meanwhile, Dr Cipriano criticised the use of “cheap quick fixes” by governments, such as the creation of non-registered nursing posts or international recruitment.

The ICN president said these were the “wrong choices” and said they would take governments in the “wrong direction”.

“Nurses are the solution for the sustainable development of our planet’s health, economic and security needs,” she said.

Pamela Cipriano

“That’s why it is concerning when OECD data reveals reduced interest in nursing as a career in many countries.

“The current situation is the result of historic and persistent underfunding of care and a lack of investment in the nursing profession, only exacerbated by the pandemic.”

The OECD’s report showed that some countries, including Japan and the Slovak Republic, saw an increase in interest for nursing and that the profession remained most popular in Japan and the US, despite the latter’s decrease in interest from teenagers.

Meanwhile, interest remained consistently low in Poland, Hungary, Italy, Greece and the Baltic states in which fewer than 1% of 15-year-olds in 2022 said they expect to enter the nursing profession.

Further, it stated that other health professions including medicine had also fallen in popularity among teenagers, according to the PISA survey results.



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