Behind the nursing glut

Posted on March 24, 2011

For Filipino nurses and nursing students, the promise of a better future is hinged on the perceived huge demand for nurses abroad. As of late, however, it appears that this no longer holds true.

The foreign markets' demand for Filipino nurses remained strong up until the middle of the last decade.

The Philippine Nurses Association, Inc. (PNA) has noted that the demand from top destinations such as the US and the UK already plateaued in 2006 when quotas for visas in the US had already been filled up.

In the UK, the policy shift favoring homegrown health workers also resulted in fewer Filipino nursing recruits.

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) showed that about 34,000 nurses were deployed abroad from 1995 to 2001. In 2001 alone the country sent nearly 14,000 nurses to 131 countries.

More recently, in 2009, the number of nurses sent abroad grew by only 6.7% to 13,456 from the previous year. This was much lower than the 40% increase from 9,004 in 2007 to 12,618 in 2008. The decline was attributed to the global economic slowdown -- a sign of the market's susceptibility to external shocks.

Still, Philippines continues to produce more nurses than the domestic and global economies can absorb.

Unofficial estimates now place the oversupply of Filipino nurses at around 150,000 as of 2008. The PNA earlier noted that as many as 1,500 qualified nurses were waiting to be employed by major hospitals in 2008. The waiting period for employment ranges from six to 12 months.

Observers cited the rapid increase in the number of nursing schools in the country for the glut. Blogger and nursing researcher Jessie Simbulan reported that there were 460 accredited nursing schools in the country in 2008.

Of particular concern, too, is the proliferation of schools offering Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) programs, a two-year non-degree course that focuses only on the basics of nursing.

This, despite the apparent preference by foreign employers for graduates of the four-year college-degree nursing course over the two-year program.

There are a number of ways to address the glut, but many proposals revolve around ensuring the quality of the nursing curriculum to produce qualified graduates. To do this, there is a need to close down under and non-performing nursing schools.

The Commission on Higher Education has identified 112 non-performing schools out of the over 400 nursing schools in the country. It is said that only less than 20% of their graduates are passing the nursing board exams.

The PNA has already asked the Commission on Higher Education to put a stop to the proliferation of underperforming schools and move to establish new or improve the quality of the existing Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) programs.

Despite these efforts, the glut of Filipino nurses is expected to persist. Recent reports put the number of new nursing graduates this year at 40,000, most of whom will likely join the ranks of the underemployed and unemployed.

With this, it seems that the nursing program is no longer a reliable option to exit out of poverty.

The Institute for Development and Econometric Analysis, Inc. (IDEA) is an economic think-tank based in the University of the Philippines - Diliman. For inquiries on IDEA, please contact Eduard Robleza at