The ethical dilemmas of nurse migration

The NSW Nurses’ Association policy on overseas recruitment of nurses and midwives is mindful of the dilemmas posed by the skilled nursing workforce shortage that Australia shares with many nations.

‘The implications of the global competition for nursing and midwifery skills necessitate some ethical consideration, given that aggressive recruitment of nurses and midwives from undeveloped countries has potentially catastrophic consequences for the health care systems in those regions,’ the policy says.

‘We recognise that nursing is an internationally mobile profession and welcome overseas nurses and midwives working in this country. However, it is important to emphasise that the importation of nurses and midwives from overseas is neither an effective nor desirable first instrument to overcome poor domestic labour market planning.’

How catastrophic the impact can be is illustrated by statistics compiled by the World Health Organisation.

According to WHO, the Americas with 10% of the global burden of disease, has 37% of the world’s health workers spending more than 50% of the world’s health budget. The African region has 24% of the burden but only 3% of health workers commanding less than 1% of world health expenditure. The exodus of skilled professionals in the midst of so much unmet health need places Africa at the epicentre of the global health workforce crisis (World Health Report 2006).

The full version of the NSWNA Policy on Overseas Recruitment of Nurses and Midwives is available on the NSWNA website –