Despite nurse shortage, number of student nursing places may fall

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Coronavirus ward at East Tallinn Central Hospital. Source: Raigo Pajula/ITK

Interest in studying to be a nurse has risen this spring but study places may decrease as an agreement between the Association of Hospitals and government has expired. This is despite Estonia facing a shortage of nurses.

In both Tartu and Tallinn, several hundred more people have applied to be nurses than in previous years, ETV's current affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported.

Higher education institutions believe that the pandemic, which highlighted the labor shortage, may have helped to increase interest in the health care profession. 

"The nursing curriculum is always very popular, not only among high school graduates, but also among those who are acquiring a second or third level of higher education. This year we had 860 entrants," said Gerdu Jaansalu, a teaching specialist at Tallinn University of Health Sciences.

Although the specialty is popular, there is still a shortage of nurses. There are six nurses per 1,000 inhabitants in Estonia, but by European standards, it should be nine.

Ulla Preeden, rector of Tartu Health Care College, said: "Colleges have actually said that we have room to increase admissions, and at the moment competitions show that there is interest."

As the number of nurses has not fallen in recent years, the agreement concluded in 2016 between health care colleges, the Association of Hospitals and the two ministries played an important role. However, it expired on January 1 this year.

Now there is no longer an agreement on how many nurses should be admitted to schools each year. There is also no consensus on traineeships and their remuneration.

"It is very bad that there is no agreement. If we look at the situation again now, it may happen that the winter admissions will decrease significantly," said Ülle Ernits, rector of Tallinn University of Health Care.

In the past, there have been two admissions to nursing in higher education: one in the autumn and the other at the end of the year. Additional winter admissions have increased in recent years at the expense of the consensus agreement.

"There is no clear certainty as to how the partners will proceed, what the ministry will deliver, what number we can continue with," Preeden said.

The Association of Hospitals and Ministry of Social Affairs discussed the agreement last year but no consensus was reached.

One important reason for this was deciding who pays for training, the hospital or higher education institution.

Heli Paluste, head of the Ministry of Social Affairs, could not say whether and when a new agreement would be concluded. 

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Editor: Helen Wright

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