The global migration of nurses: importing skills, exporting shortages

Facing nursing shortages, health systems in developed countries are recruiting nurses from other developed and developing countries. What is the impact of this short term solution on recipient and source countries?  How can health systems plan for the effects of increasing migration of nursing staff?

Research by the World Health Organisation explores the international migration of nurses and the implications for five countries: Australia, Ireland, Norway, the UK and the USA. The flow of nurses to these countries has risen during the 1990s, and, in some cases, recruitment is from developing countries.  The researchers propose a number of policy options to manage nurse migration and make a number of recommendations for improving workforce data systems.

Significant findings include:

The evidence points to a sharp increase in the international flow of nurses.  However, the absence of basic information makes it difficult to assess the impact of migration.  For countries to plan for the effects of nurse migration, the ability to monitor trends in the inward and outward flow of nurses is essential. 

Methods to improve the availability and comparability of data need to be promoted.  The information base must enable policy-makers in both source and destination countries to address key policy questions related to the international migration of nurses.

Recruiting nurses from overseas can create a shortage in source countries that are less well equipped to deal with it.  Three policy options are proposed to deal with this:

The international flow of nurses is a symptom both of a global shortage of nurses and of deep-seated problems in countries that have failed to plan for and retain sufficient nursing staff.  The underlying problems can only be solved through country-level improvements in the status of nursing, in the planning of health services, and in the management of the nursing workforce. 

‘The migration of nurses: trends and policies’, Bulletin of the World Health Organisation 82(8): 587-594, by J. Buchan and J. Sochalski, 2004 Full document.

Funded by: WHO; International Council of Nurses; Royal College of Nursing, UK

id21 Research Highlight: 16 February 2005

Further Information:
James Buchan
Faculty of Social Sciences and Health Care
Queen Margaret University College

Contact the contributor: jbuchan@qmuc.ac.uk

World Health Organisation

Other related links:
'Wealthy countries’ gains maintain the brain drain in the health sector'

'Skilling up in a globalising world: Africa’s training challenge'

'All in the mind? The emigration of South Africa’s young professionals'

DatelineHealth-Africa-Net: online resources on brain drain of health professionals from Africa

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