The recently announced move by the Government to bond nurses to serve for a period of time in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) before being allowed to migrate to greener pastures is a long overdue corrective to a problem that ought not to have existed.
The current worldwide shortage of nurses occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic has unveiled a fundamental flaw in the incentive system used here in SVG to attract people to the nursing profession. Our system provided free nursing training for three years, along with a stipend of $1000 a month, then allowed the trained nurses to migrate without any obligation whatsoever to the country.
We are not now conveniently characterising the system as flawed because we do not have enough nurses to adequately staff our clinics and hospital at the moment. It was just as flawed when we were graduating more nurses than we could employ.
The system was flawed as it placed nursing students on a different level to most other Vincentians who receive post secondary or University level training paid for in full or in part by the Government. Nurses ought not to be treated differently and the corrective will seek to level the playing field, but will not make it perfectly flat, as our nurses will still be the only students in SVG or even the Caribbean to receive a stipend while being trained.
When students are awarded scholarships by the state to pursue higher education, these scholarships are usually in keeping with the Government’s National Training Priorities and Sustainable Development Goals, except in the case of students who win national scholarships, exhibitions or bursaries who have no restrictions on what they study. The training of nurses is placed high on the Government’s list of training priorities to ensure that we have sufficient qualified nurses to meet the needs of our hospitals, clinics and the private sector. A system where nurses are routinely trained by the state to subsidise the health care systems of developed countries to our detriment is perverse.
Our primary obligation is to our country and we must stop the use of scarce resources to make life changing opportunities available to students and get nothing in return. When students are provided with opportunities for higher education, we are making an investment in their future and the future of the nation. We expect our investment to pay dividends one way or the other. But not every field of endeavour will require that the national service be rendered right here in SVG. Some of our graduates will be most useful to our country from bases in capitals around the world. But nursing is different in that care cannot be administered remotely or over a Zoom platform.
The bond is not forever, usually three years’ work for three years of training and of course, as with all other training bonds, if within a certain period of time, usually three months, the state is unable to provide employment, the graduate is free to go.
What does patriotism mean if one only takes from one’s country and gives nothing back? We have invested enormously in our students including nurses. All we ask is that they give something back to our country, especially in our time of greatest need.
To whom much is given, much is expected.