Keya Sharma was irritated. Her repeated call to the nurses desk for antacid remained unheeded. Finally, a 20-something girl dressed in blue — who understood neither Bengali nor Hindi, leave alone English — handed her a familiar container. Sharma was exasperated — it was a bottle of not antacid but talcum powder.
The incident occurred in a well-known private hospital in Calcutta. The explanation by a senior nurse that the girl is a trainee speaks volumes about the sprucing up required in the training and recruitment of nurses in the country.
The increasing number of healthcare facilities, especially in the big towns and cities, has spelt a shortage of professionals. Dileep Kumar, chief nursing officer, ministry of health, and director, Indian Nursing Council (INC), was quoted in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO) as saying that India needs 2.4 million nurses by 2012. This, in order to step up the nurse-patient ratio to 1:500.
Whats more, theres a dearth of nursing trainers too. According to Dr Jean Yan of the Health Professions Networks, nursing and midwifery unit, WHO, the faculty-student ratio in developing countries is as high as 1:45 compared with a 1:12 ratio in developed countries.
The shortage of nursing professionals is due to many reasons, including the social stigma attached to the profession. Maya Sengupta, professor, Ma Sarada College of Nursing, Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan, Calcutta, says, I come from a family of doctors and professors. Working was not taboo, but nursing wasnt a preferred career. Many do not like the idea of them working closely with male doctors, especially on night shift, she adds. Yet others fear the work environment, amidst infections and diseases.
Strangely, nursing has acquired the tag of a female profession. In countries like the US, male nurses are more common. Many believe a woman will be more caring than a man, says Sengupta. But progress is being made — for example, Maharashtra reserves 20 per cent of seats in its nursing colleges for male candidates.
Pragya Bhattacharya, a nurse at the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishthan, Sishu Mangal Hospital, Calcutta, sees this in a positive vein. The field is wide open for us; there is no competition with male applicants, she says.
The booming healthcare sector has given rise to many new hospitals. There may not be enough doctors to meet the demand. Nurses can expect to play a more significant role than before, says D.N. Agarwal, executive director of AMRI Hospitals.
The opportunities are indeed huge. Indian nurses are much in demand globally too. The Indian culture is such that most women acquire nurse-like qualities, says Dr Asim Chakraborty, professor and head of the eye department, Midnapore Medical College. Nursing may seem a more suitable profession than, say, investment banking, in certain sections of society.
The stigma and social conditioning notwithstanding, nursing is a hot career option. One, nurses are in demand. Two, the pay isnt meagre anymore. And three, its interesting and absorbing; the profession no longer involves just a bedside routine.
So how does one become a nurse? Asima Chakrabarti, principal of BM Birla College of Nursing, Calcutta, tells you how. A candidate needs to take admission to a nursing institute recognised by the INC, state nursing council, state government and regulatory university (in the case of a collegiate course). After completing the programme, registration for practice must be obtained from the state nursing council, she explains.
Agarwal lays emphasis on the choice of institute. Aspirants should opt for a nursing school that is attached to or part of a major hospital, he says.
The programmes offered range from those in auxiliary nursing and midwifery for those who have passed Class X to graduate and postgraduate courses. There are one-year specialisation courses in oncology nursing, critical care nursing and neuro nursing, to name a few. The whole list along with course fees is available on the INC website (www.indiannursingcouncil.org).
Those who want to study in the US can attend a community college or junior college and earn an associates degree in nursing. They can do a BSc in nursing or graduation in another subject and then join a masters programme in nursing. Typically, an MSc in nursing is meant for becoming a more specialised nurse, whereas the BSc is more of a generalist degree, says Megan Solinger, admissions and student services officer, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, Baltimore. There are doctorate programmes and certificate post degree courses too.
In India, nurses work in hospitals, community health nursing, private clinics, in tele-medicine, as well as at embassies, big firms and schools. Those interested in new avenues can do a specialisation course or a masters and work in cardio-vascular thoracic nursing, critical care nursing, psychiatric nursing, or obstetrical and midwifery nursing. There are emerging fields too. One area that has developed over the past decade is that of the emergency nurse practitioner. This advanced practice role incorporates both that of a family nurse practitioner and emergency nursing, says Marsha L. Lewis, Emory Universitys Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Georgia. Travel nursing is another interesting option.
Krishna Kothary, who completed her undergraduate degree in nursing from the University of Iowa last year, has a message for aspirants: Nursing is an art and a science. Its a perfect choice for those who are compassionate, intelligent and wanting to make a difference in the world.
WHAT YOU EARN
This depends on the programme one has done, and also varies from state to state and from government to the private sector. Starting salary in reputed private hospitals (clinical setting):
Entry level: Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000
Mid level: Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000
Expert level: Rs 45,000 or more
WHERE YOU LEARN
■ BM Birla College of Nursing, Calcutta (www.birlaheart.org/College_of_
BSc, post certificate BSc nursing, MSc, cardiovascular and thoracic specialised programme
■ Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishthan, Calcutta (rkmsevapratishthan.org)
General nursing-midwifery, BSc (hons)
■ College of Nursing, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi (www.aiims.edu)
Bsc (hons), post certificate BSc nursing
■ Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences, Calcutta (www.rtiics.org)
BSc (hons) generic, post basic BSc (hons) condensed, post basic diploma in cardiovascular thoracic specialisation, post basic diploma in neuro nursing, post basic diploma in nephro-urology nursing, MSc medical surgical nursing, MSc pediatric nursing, MSc community nursing
■ AFMC College of Nursing, Pune (http://afmc.nic.in)
BSc, Post certificate BSc nursing
■ National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore (www.nimhans.kar.nic.in) BSc, diploma in psychiatric nursing, diploma in neurological and neurosurgical nursing, MSc psychiatric nursing, PhD psychiatric nursing
■ Rajkumari Amrit Kaur College of Nursing, New Delhi
BSc (hons), MSc, PhD, MPhil
SERVE THE WORLD
Hospitals in India have a constant worry: of losing experienced nurses to the UK, the US, New Zealand, Canada and the UAE. Pull factors, say those who have moved to these countries, are immense respect attached to the profession, being in-charge of total patient care and, of course, the money. Degrees are preferred over diplomas. In the US, one can earn between $46,000 and $67,000 per year. An Indian nurse working in a clinic in the UAE can expect 2,500 to 4,000 dirhams a month, and 8,000 to 9,000 dirhams or more in a big hospital.