Migratory Nurses: The Brain Drain

(Translated from "Uruguay las Produce, Europa las Consume," by Carmen Tornaria in Mujer/Fempress, No. 120, October 1991, reprinted from Connexions, "The Global Factory", No. 44, 1994.)

Just as in the old days, today Europe is once again taking material produced in the Americas for use at home. The materials, this time, are human and the demand stems from a worldwide shortage of trained nurses.

The phenomenon of Uruguayan professionals emigrating is not new and has become, after all these years, to bleed the country in two ways. On one hand, it is emigration in a country of three million, while on the other hand, it is the loss of young qualified people who were brought up by the community (a state-run university education of up to seven years.)

The drama erupts from a country that trains them but cannot keep them. The university has become, in a way, a factory turning out the unemployed. And university-level nursing is a career that is predominantly female.

The University School of Nursing has gained national and international prestige for producing graduates. For more than twenty years, Uruguayan nurses have been part of the migratory path, primarily to Swiss hospitals, although in insignificant numbers.

Today the phenomenon has become alarming. For the past month, Spanish and North American representatives from public and private health institutions have been recruiting nursing personnel in Montevideo.

A Uruguayan nurse makes about $350 per month. The contract to work in Spain includes $1500 per month, six hours of work per day, one month leave, three free days during certain vacation periods, and, along with Sundays, two optional days off per month. The 72 contractees will pass a test and wait for a final degree examination; a formality that ends in December, the month they will travel to take up their new positions at a hospital 40 kilometers from Madrid.

As for recruitment in the USA, working conditions are better but the formalities are more involved. A position at a private hospital in New Jersey brings a contract for $2800 per month plus room and board at the hospital. The exam in this case first requires a test on language and then, once working and after a period of probation, proof of competency.

The number of contractees becomes especially significant since the nursing school graduates only 60 students per year. These contracts already represent more than a generation of graduates.

While the university trains nurses for export, hospitals and sanatoria in Uruguay run the risk of being left with inexperienced and improvised help.

A proposal for legislation was presented to the Parliament by the Uruguayan Nurses Association to search for a solution to this critical situation.