Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Attention young folks: have you considered nursing school?

Maybe I’m just being a bit oversensitive here, but if there are three words I don’t like to see strung together in a headline, they’re aging, baby, and boomers.

So I was not exactly delighted to spy a Business Week headline that read Aging Baby Boomers Face Losing Care as Filipinos Go Home. (The inclusion of the words face, losing, and care certainly didn’t contribute any postivos to my feeling.)

Health care among aging baby boomers is much on my mind of late. Even though, frankly, I don’t think of us as aging. Not aging aging. Not yet anyway.

Last week, my brother-in-law had a hernia operation. (Doing fine.)

A few weeks back, a friend had a hip replacement. Her second hip is scheduled for Halloween. (Talk about trick or treat.)

Although my PCP has told me that I am in stunningly good health, I was just diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. So each night I Velcro my left hand and wrist into a Futuro splint.

(I won’t even count my husband’s health woes in here, as he’s technically not a boomer, having missed by two years. He just looks like one of “us.”)

Anyhow, it seems that, over the last few decades, hospitals throughout the U.S. and the rest of the developed world have increasingly relied on nurses and physicians from elsewhere. Much of the time, for nurses, that elsewhere was the Philippines. (The doctors are from India.)

In truth, the Filipino angle hasn’t been apparent to me. Of the dozens of nurses I have encountered over the course of my husband’s illness, almost all were American. At MGH, in fact, most of the nurses we ran across were local. The only true outliers I can recall were a nurse from Jamaica, and another from the Midwest who was surprised when I recognized – thanks to a cousin-in-law from Port Wing – that her accent was from Wisconsin. I guess this isn’t all that surprising: in the US, only 5% of the nurses are foreign. For doctors, the percentage is 27.

We didn’t run into any Indian doctors that I know of, but I certainly get the 27% foreign stat. Jim’s PCP has a Spanish name and accent. I think he’s from Latin America somewhere. Of the “Big Three”  (oncologist, radiologist, surgeon) for Jim’s recent cancer ordeal, two were “foreigners”: a Greek oncologist and a Korean radiologist. Jim was also treated by a few other MD’s from somewhere else, but none that I recall were from India.

But that may just be Mass General for you.

A hub for crack international physicians from everywhere, but not having to actually import doctors from anywhere. Ditto for the nurses, I guess. There may just not be any shortages when it comes to MGH, which (as we know from the signage that’s all over the place these days) is ranked the Number One Hospital in the country.

But shortages are starting to occur in less desirable locations. And they’re going to get worse, as there are more of us (consumers), and less of them (providers).

The BW article doesn’t tell us what’s up with the doctors from India, but apparently a lot of those Filipino nurses are now starting to stay home.

One young nurse profiled decided that she didn’t want to spend her life sticking thermometers under tongues, and switched to becoming a call center worker, where she places calls to bank credit card holders reminding them to pay up. Tough as nursing is, I can’t see call center as a career alternative, but as Nurse Nancy said:

“If I can maintain a relatively high standard of living as a customer-service representative, why go overseas to work as a nurse?”

Overall, this is bad news for boomers in the US, Europe, and Japan as we:

…reach the prime age for medical care. Economic growth in emerging economies, despite some signs of recent slowing, is stoking investment in hospitals and creating job opportunities in other industries that mean a growing number of health workers choose to stay at home.

For Filipinos, of course, this is good news: better health care, more career options. But what about us?????? (Can you believe the complete and utter selfishness?)

Of course, the medical personnel shortages  - WHO estimates a world-wide shortage of 3 million health workers - are nowhere near as acute in the US and other developed nations as they are in  poor places like sub-Saharan Africa:

…which has a quarter of the global burden of disease and only 3 percent of the world’s health workers.

All this is good news, of course, for doctors and nurses, as their pay is apt to go up and their options spread out.

At least we’re in a place where a lot of the potential migrant nurses and doctors are going to know the language. Not so in Japan, which has a rapidly aging population and a language that people can’t learn from pop lyrics and exports of “Two and a Half Men.”

Meanwhile, a shout out to young Americans: have you thought about nursing or med school?

Just think how much fun it will be ministering to us aging baby boomers…

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