Interest in nursing falls as demand grows

Global nursing shortage is looming - Newsreel
A new OECD report highlights the growing demand for nurses at a time when less young people are interested in the occupation. | Photo: Drazen Zigic (iStock)

A global shortage of nurses is looming as demand for medical staff grows but fewer young people are interested in nursing careers.

An OECD study, released this week, found that interest in nursing as a career among 15-year-olds had fallen in half of OECD countries between 2018 and 2022.

The Australian figure was reasonably steady over the period, but only 3.8 percent of 15-year-olds showed any interest in nursing as a career.

The falling interest in nursing globally comes at a time when an estimated two million extra nurses are needed across OECD countries, an increase of 20 percent compared to the pre-COVID period.

“On average across OECD countries, the share of young people expecting to work as nurses fell from 2.3 percent in 2018 to 2.1 percent in 2022,” the latest OECD report said.

“In many countries, the public image and perception of nurses during the pandemic was mixed.

“On the one hand, frontline health workers have been portrayed as ‘heroes’ during the early parts of the pandemic in recognition of the hard work and risks.

“On the other hand, the heavy workload, difficult working conditions and low pay resulted in high job dissatisfaction and intention to quit the profession.”

The mismatch between nursing demand and interest was worsened by the low interest in nursing among teenage boys.

“Over 90 percent of 15-year-old students expecting to work as nurses are girls in most OECD countries,” the report said.

“A continuing challenge in all countries is to address the persistent stereotype that views nursing as a profession suited primarily for women, requiring extra efforts to attract male students.

“More generally, improving the working conditions and pay of nurses is key to attracting more young boys and girls to the profession and to retaining them.”

The OECD report said the figures suggested there would be growing international competition to recruit nurses because countries could not attract enough of their own people into the occupation.

This would require “fair and ethical management” of such international recruitment.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded everyone of the crucial role frontline health workers play, but also highlighted how difficult and demanding the working conditions can be in the health sector,” the OECD report said.

“It revealed that various parts of health systems had been chronically understaffed, subjecting the existing workforce to prolonged overextension and severe stress, which in turn led to widespread job dissatisfaction, burnout and an increased desire to reduce work hours or leave the profession entirely.”

The full report is available on the OECD website.