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"Recruiters Head South of the Border for Nurses"

June 27, 2004 -- A generally good AP story by Morgan Lee, which appeared today in the Los Angeles Times, reports that U.S. hospital recruiters are starting to seek nurses from Mexico. It explores many of the potential positive and negative aspects of the global migration of developing world nurses to wealthier nations with critical nursing shortages. Its use of quotes from a Mexican nurse, Mexican nursing professors, and representatives of the American Nurses Association and the International Council of Nurses is unusual and commendable.

The report notes that United States hospitals have for some time drawn nurses from English-speaking nations in Asia and Africa, but that the latest focus of their efforts is Mexico. Although the number of Mexican nurses who have successfully made the transition does not yet appear to be great, the story describes new efforts by recruiters that suggest it could increase quickly.

The piece explores the pros and cons of this development, and the migration of developing nation nurses generally, for all concerned. As the piece notes, quoting a Mexican nurse with plans to move north, the developing nation nurses themselves can vastly increase their now meager salaries, providing better lives for themselves and their families, and can also enhance their skills. The piece does not address the family dislocation that can be inherent in such migration.

Some health experts worry that the developing nations themselves are losing nurses they have used their limited resources to train, and as a Mexican nursing professor notes, the nurses sought are often the best educated ones. Moreover, as an ANA policy fellow points out, many of the developing nations have weak health systems and also suffer from nursing shortages that are worse than that in the U.S. The piece cites WHO-sponsored research finding that the quality of care "can suffer" in nations that become sources of nurses for wealthier ones.

On the other hand, an ICN consultant asserts that the departure of nurses can actually result in improved training facilities, education, and status of the profession in the developing nation. That would be a logical result of a severe loss of nurses, but no evidence is supplied to show that it is actually happening in such cash-strapped nations, evidence that would be especially helpful since it is not clear to what extent such improvements have occurred even in the rich nations with shortages. This consultant also states that evidence suggests most of the nurses do not emigrate permanently, and that those who return bring back advanced knowledge and skills.

As for the more developed nations, in the first instance they receive nurses willing to work in conditions in which native-born nurses may not be willing to work, and presumably this will increase the amount of care provided, at least in the short term. Of course, as the ANA fellow suggests, this influx of more willing nurses does not lead to improved working conditions for nurses in the U.S., which is a major factor in the shortage. On the other hand, a Mexican recruiter suggests a potential benefit for patients from an increase in Mexican nurses that may not be present with nurses from other regions: the United States' Latino population is rapidly increasing, and the Mexican nurse "understands, speaks and lives the culture of Latin America."

See Morgan Lee's article "Recruiters Head South of the Border for Nurses" in the June 27, 2004 edition of the Los Angeles Times.

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