RANGOON — Nursing students who protested delayed licensing have reached an agreement with the Ministry of Health and Sports following an informal meeting between the two parties.
Several hundred students from Rangoon’s University of Nursing took to the streets on Mar. 15 to protest the ministry’s policy of issuing nurse and midwifery licenses to graduates only after the completion of three years of public service at government hospitals.
The ministry’s 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 criticizing the announcement and demanding negotiations with the ministry.
The ministry held a press conference on Mar. 16 and emphasized that the policy aimed to tackle a severe shortage of nurses and midwives at government medical service facilities. Health and Sports Minister Dr. Myint Htwe rushed back from a government trip abroad ahead of schedule to directly negotiate with the protestors on Friday.
The two parties issued separate statements announcing that they had reached an agreement regarding the students’ demands.
“We have agreed that nursing and midwifery licenses will be given out immediately after graduation if the graduates agree to serve in the state service,” said deputy director-general of the Department of Medical Services Dr. Htay Aung.
But any nurses or midwives who quit before the completion of their three-year public service have to surrender their licenses to the regulatory Myanmar Nurses and Midwife Council and wait the remainder of the three year term to register with the council [to renew their licenses], he continued.
“We will create a [separate] mechanism for those who don’t want to serve state duties at all after graduation,” he added.
According to the health ministry, the required workforce for more than 1,000 public hospitals across the country is a minimum of 37,000 nurses. But nearly 43 percent of the required workforce is vacant, with only about 20,000 nurses serving in government facilities.
Dr. Htay Aung also said the health ministry was trying to upgrade the work environment in public hospitals and provide accommodations.
Those who opted not to complete the requirement could compensate by paying a fine of 400,000 kyats (US$293). The ministry estimated that one in every four graduate nurses pays a fine to get out of public service duties.
A nurse employed at a public hospital earns a base salary of 165,000 kyats ($121) per month, according to the Nursing University Students’ Union (NUSU).
Ma Aye Mi San, a class representative for final year students who participated in the movement, said there were many reasons why nurses did not want to work in public hospitals and that low pay was a primary issue.
Although we know that the ministry is trying to tackle the nursing shortage, we urge it to do proper surveys to find the root causes of the problem and pragmatic solutions, NUSU’s Sunday statement read.
The ministry has formed a mediation team to negotiate the students’ demands.
The seven-member team is headed by the deputy director-general of the Department of Medical Services Dr. Htay Aung, and comprises the Department of Human Resources for Health director and the chairpersons of the Myanmar Nurse and Midwife Council and the Myanmar Nurse and Midwife Association.