Report: Global nursing workforce needs significant bump in numbers

Capturing detailed data about the world’s nursing workforce has historically proven difficult with hundreds of different nations and sources of information.

But recently, nursing and healthcare leaders from countries around the globe united to share such statistics on the nursing workforce with one another.

In April, the result of those collaborative efforts of 191 countries was the release of World Health Organization’s State of the World’s Nursing 2020 report, which highlights a projected shortfall of 5.7 million nurses in the global nursing workforce in the next decade unless nations increase funding to educate and employ more nurses.

The report’s authors discovered that there are 27.9 million nurses globally, including 19 million professional nurses who trained three to four years and 6 million associate professional nurses who trained one to two years.

Even though more than 4 million nurses have been added to the global nursing workforce since 2013, the vast majority are working in countries that account for only half of the world’s population.

This means there are severe shortages in some countries in the African, Southeast Asian and Eastern Mediterranean regions, along with some countries in Latin America. In the African region, for example, there are fewer than 10 nurses per 10,000 people, while parts of Europe, the U.S. and Australia have 10 times as many nurses per 10,000 people.

While increasing the density of nurses in lower-income countries might seem like a daunting goal, the collaborators found that countries with a low density of nurses could prevent a global shortage by increasing the total number of nursing graduates by only 8.8% per year from 2018 to 2030 and by improving the ability to employ them.

Scaling up educating nurses would cost about $10 per capita per year in the affected low- and middle-income countries, according to the report.

Carey McCarthy, RN

“Most countries can do this with domestic funds, even low- and middle-income countries,” said Carey McCarthy, PhD, MPH, RN, technical officer for WHO’s health workforce department and a lead author of the report. “International financing organizations like the World Bank can target development assistance to help achieve this goal.”

For Francisca Okafor, RN, RM, BNSc, MPH, FWACN, deputy director of nursing at the Federal Ministry of Health in Abuja, Nigeria, the report’s findings will allow her to advocate for more funding for nursing schools in her country, where less than 20% of nursing applicants currently are admitted to schools.

“The government has not been investing in the infrastructure and faculty needed to expand nursing schools,” she said. “Now I have data with which to engage the government.”

Global trends in training

Although the report on the global nursing workforce, which WHO completed in partnership with the International Council of Nurses and the Nursing Now campaign, showed that there is considerable variability in the training and education of nurses worldwide, many countries reported the average duration of professional nursing education was three to four years.

This suggests an increasing level of professionalism in the field, according to McCarthy. In the African region, about 90% of countries reported their …read more

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