The Global Shortage in Nursing Staff


Nursing is one of the most important elements of a successful health care system in any country in the world, and as such is given special attention worldwide. At present, our world is suffering from a great scarcity of nursing staff, creating a sort of worldwide crisis. Many countries have endeavored to make future plans to face this challenge, and have depended on their human resources and encouraged their local populace to join this great and esteemed profession, a profession which Islam revered and put in high regard, for Allah’s messenger (PBUH) honored the earliest to undertake this profession in the beginning of Islam, such as the two early Muslim women:  Rufaida of the Ansaris and Omaima Bint Qais of the Ghafaris, as well as others.

I wrote an article dated December 14th, 2004, with the title of: “To you, the granddaughters of Rufaida of the Ansaris,” in which I spoke about the great and timeless feats of Muslim nurses, such as Rufaida Bint Kaab Al Aslamia of the Ansaris, who is considered the first nurse in Islam, and who is one of the early Muslims who took part in the Battle of The Trench in the fifth year after Hijra.

She assembled a tent in the Holy Prophet’s mosque in Medina, to take care of the wounded and attend to them; and when the great companion of the prophet, Saad Ibn Muath (May Allah Bless Him) was injured in the battle, the Prophet ordered that he be put in Rufaida’s tent inside the mosque. He said (PBUH):”Put him in Rufaida’s tent so that I can keep a close watch on him.” Rufaida’s tent was actually the first medical tent assembled in Islam; or let us says it was the first movable field hospital, or at least the first advanced wound-care unit in the battlefield. The prophet (PBUH) gave the finest of the nurses medals of Honor, in recognition of their efforts in caring for the wounded and sick, in mending fractures, stopping bleeding, tending to the wounded, consoling them and caring for them.

I also spoke in my article about the last hundred years, and about the return of the pre-Islamic outlook amongst many fathers and mothers towards nursing, such that many families now prevent their daughters from joining this great and humane profession and prevent them from following in the footsteps of those whom the Greatest of People and the Last of the Messengers honored with medals, medals that remained with those people, and among the whole nation, as proof of the greatness of this profession, invalidating and correcting the archaic pre-Islamic notions about it.

I also spoke about the advances in this profession in the West, and about the opening of thousands of academies and colleges, while this profession has deteriorated in many Islamic nations, such that a single country in the Islamic world, as our own cherished country, employs more than 100,000 nurses from overseas. The need will actually multiply in the coming decade, as the growth rate increases; and it is a wonder that ‘Saudization’ is still less than 2% in this particular profession.

My question in this article is: Is there a complete and comprehensive strategic plan to confront this challenge? And where is it? We are in dire need of a complete and comprehensive plan in which six ministries take part: the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Finance, in addition to the Human Resource Development Fund.

I will give one example of the role – among many other roles – of each Ministry, since there are other more encompassing roles than the ones I mention here. The Ministry of information, for example, must have an effective role in correcting the community’s perception of this great, humane and honorable profession, in putting it back where it belongs and in encouraging the coming generation to take up this profession and revere it. Where are the TV shows and movies that put this great profession back where it belongs and advance its standing? The power of the media in bringing about these changes is no secret to any of us; so instead of the silly foreign TV series that manage to revere ridiculous characters, and paint a distorted picture of men and women, our Ministry of Information must be concerned about producing serious TV shows that improve the status of nursing, and paint in the mind of every girl an admirable picture of this great and honorable profession.

As for education, there must be a well-thought-out plan for creating an appealing outlook towards this profession, through the incorporation of historical stories and real-life examples of nursing in our curricula, focusing on the humane aspect of this honorable profession in our academic programs, and highlighting the great returns and blessing that come to those who undertake it.

An example of what the Ministry of Labor can do is setting up a special flexible system for the nursing profession, one that suits the kind of people joining it, since most of them are young ladies at the start of their lives, at the usual age for marriage and childbearing, hence their needs must be taken into consideration and due aid given to them to allow them to cope between their work and their private lives.

As for the Ministry of Health, among its roles is overseeing the quality of programs offered at nursing academies and colleges, and offering incentives and reprimands according to clear medical education criteria. It must also aim at producing manpower capable of competing internationally, and not be a burden on our society due to the poor education level of graduates of the nursing academies of our national universities.

An example of the role of the Ministry of Finance and the Human Resource Development fund could be increasing funding for high-quality programs to produce nursing manpower, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, as well as providing monetary incentives to academies and colleges that produce high-quality graduates according to international assessments provided by specialized international agencies, and monitored by the Ministry of Health.

As for the Ministry of Interior, there are hundreds of thousands of people of diverse ethnic origins who were born in our beloved country and who have lived and grown up in this country and consider it their own, and whose lives and futures are tied to it. Many countries resort to conferring citizenship upon people like these, in order to cover the shortage in certain specialties; this is what is happening now in the United States and Canada and other countries, and has attracted tens of thousands of nurses to seek residence in these countries. It might be beneficial for our country to confer a regulated residency upon such people, with the stipulation of entering the nursing profession and staying in it for a certain number of years.

All of the above are just a few examples among many, and there is much more that can be done if a task force led by ministers is created from the six ministries mentioned above, putting forth a complete and comprehensive  plan to face this challenge. The global crisis that we face is a test of the strength or weakness of health systems worldwide, a crisis that current field studies and statistics, as well as future projections have concluded will increase more and more. So is there anyone who will listen to the outcry of a well-meaning advisor who is appalled by our situation? Is there anything more worthy of committing our time and thoughts and efforts than our health?