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Lebanon News

Nurses’ order looks to promote profession as shortage looms

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Order of Nurses will launch a campaign this week to promote the profession on the occasion of International Nurses Day Thursday, as the order’s president Claire Zablit warned that the country “will face a shortage of nurses in the near future.”

“Every country in the world suffers from a lack of nurses and we’re going to have the same problem,” Zablit said.

“Our nurses are leaving; they’re attracted by the working conditions in other Arab states and in the West,” she said, stressing that those leaving were mainly experienced nurses who had been working for four to five years, “meaning the most efficient ones.”

The three-year awareness campaign, which will be seen on television and billboards starting this week, is mainly aimed at attracting young people to the profession as well as changing the common image the public at large has of nurses.

“We are going to use all available means in the coming three years in order to promote the image of [nursing as] an academic profession … because people don’t really know what the role of nurses is,” Zablit said.

“People always associate the nurse with someone who didn’t study much, who didn’t go to university, who’s wearing a white jacket and giving people injections, when the role of the nurse is much more than just technical tasks,” she added.

“The nurse is a key member of the medical team … that’s the image we want to promote,” said Zablit, adding that he wanted to change the “negative image” of the profession.

“It’s a very rewarding job,” she said, although acknowledging that nurses rarely make a long career out of their jobs, because of some of the requirements, such as night shifts and conflict with family life.

A decade ago, the average career of a nurse ranged from seven to 10 years, according to Zablit. She said the situation has slightly changed because of the economic situation, and nurses now worked longer but stressed that nonetheless, around two-thirds of nurses were younger than 35.

“People don’t stay in this kind of tiring job until 65,” she acknowledged.

She said one of the order’s highest priorities was to increase the number of days off, given the fatigue generated by the job.

Nurses work some 42 hours a week on the basis of a 12-hour shift for an average salary of $1,000 per month, but Zablit acknowledged that work conditions and salaries differed according to the regions and the size of the hospital.

Two months ago, Zablit met with caretaker Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh after nurses at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri Government Hospital had gone for over three months without receiving a salary.

She said that the issue was linked to the fact that a new government had not yet been formed and therefore the hospitals’ budget had not been approved, which made public hospitals responsible for covering expenses themselves.

The country’s nursing sector currently comprises 8,600 members, of whom approximately 81 percent are female. Enrollmentin the order is mandatory since it was created in 2002, as it is in all medical professions in the country. However, the order estimates that some 2,000 nurses are not registered and are working illegally because they are not Lebanese nationals or cannot afford the $75 registration fee.

According the order, 86.6 percent of nurses work in hospitals, 5.3 per cent work in primary health care centers, 5.2 percent work in universities and nursing institutions, and 1.3 percent in schools.

Each year, 700 nursing students start their university courses and some 750 begin technical training. Zablit hopes the campaign will help bring the former figure up to 1,000 new university students in three years’ time.

She explained that with the development of medical techniques, the need for nurses is much higher than in the past.

“We have much more specializations now; for example six years ago there wasn’t a single neonatal unit in the north of the country, and nowadays every single hospital has one.”

High on the list of priorities for the order is securing an amendment to the 1979 law governing the profession which, according to Zablit, does not correspond to today’s different levels of training and new specializations. The legislation has been approved by the Cabinet and now has to be endorsed by Parliament.

The current law only recognizes three categories of nurses, with the highest level corresponding to a three-year long training period. But as Zablit explained, specialized nurses now hold doctorate degrees.

“Nurses don’t have the same prerogatives than before, and Master’s and Ph.D.s are not recognized,” she said, explaining that hospitals have already asked for higher qualifications when hiring unit chiefs.

Zablit was confident that if nurses secure recognition of their specializations and receive continuous training and a career plan, a labor shortage can be avoided.

“Nurses are in high demand all across the world, but by improving work conditions and defending their rights, we can manage to make them stay.”

On the occasion of International Nurses Day Thursday, the order is organizing an international conference entitled “Globalization and Nursing: Challenges and Perspectives” organized under the patronage of Khalifeh.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 09, 2011, on page 3.
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