RANGOON — Policy that requires graduate nurses to serve at public hospitals for three years aims to tackle severe shortage of nurses and midwives at government medical service facilities, the Ministry of Health and Sports said on Thursday.
Several hundred students from Rangoon’s University of Nursing took to the streets on Wednesday protesting against the ministry’s policy of issuing nurse and midwifery licenses to graduates only after completion of the three years of public service, and barring those who fail to complete the requirement from working at private hospitals.
The ministry held a press conference in the capital, Naypyidaw, responding to the demonstration by the nursing students. Permanent secretary Dr. Thet Khaing Win told the press that public hospitals are currently suffering from a significant shortage of human resources, especially nurses and midwives, while trying to implement more free and affordable medical care.
The Department of Medical Services announced on Feb.1 that unlicensed nurses and midwives who had not completed the required three-year government service would not be allowed to work in private hospitals.
The Nursing University Students Union (NUSU) issued a statement on Feb. 27 denouncing the ministry’s announcement. On Mar. 10, the NUSU held a press conference in Rangoon demanding a response from the ministry by Mar. 15.
Dr. Myint Han, a director-general at the ministry’s department of medical services, said that there are only about 20,000 nurses serving at over 1,000 public hospitals across the country, but the required workforce is more than 37,000.
Nearly 43 percent of the required workforce—or more than 15,000 nurses—is vacant, he added.
Until 2015, the state duty requirement for graduate nurses and midwives was only two years of service, and those who opted not to complete the requirement could compensate by paying a fine of 400,000 kyats ($293).
“One of the reasons why there are a lot of vacancies is that fresh graduate nurses from universities and training schools are not willing to serve [at government hospitals],” Dr. Myint Han said, estimating that one in every four graduate nurses does not work in a public hospital and pays a fine to get out of the service duties instead.
Ma Aye Mi San, a class representative for final year students at Rangoon’s nursing university, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the government should thoroughly identify and review root causes to why so many nurses quit their jobs in government hospitals.
The basic salary of a nurse serving at public hospital is only 165,000 kyats (US$121) per month, Ma Aye Mi San said, implying that there are many reasons behind the shift and that low income is one of the serious issues. She also rejected the accusation by ministry officials that graduate nurses are not willing to serve their state duty requirements.
She stressed that legitimate nursing and midwifery licenses should be given out immediately after graduation so that nurses would have confidence in providing medical care in government hospitals, because they want to have their certification in hand.
“They shouldn’t control and oppress us with licensing issues like this,” she said. “It’s not the right approach or a proper solution.”
According to the Myanmar Nurse and Midwife Council law, anyone who is granted a degree or diploma or certification in nursing or midwifery from local or international institutions must apply to register with the council.
Daw Phyu Phyu, President of the Myanmar Nurse and Midwife Council said at Thursday’s conference that nurses and midwives who are completing the requirement of the three-year state service are not unlicensed, emphasizing that graduates who register with the council are granted registration and a license certification number.