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Estonia still struggling to train enough nurses

Nurses working in a hospital setting.
Nurses working in a hospital setting. Source: ERR

While the number of spots in nursing degree programs has been increased, and studies are now being offered in several cities across the country, Estonia still isn't managing to train sufficient numbers of nurses.

This year, 30 Tallinn Health Care College (TTK) nursing students began their three and a half years of studies in Pärnu. Over the years, nearly 80 people have studied nursing at Pärnu Hospital, most of whom have subsequently stayed on to work there.

A total of 440 nurses work at the coastal city's hospital, and according to Pärnu Hospital CMO Veiko Vahula, they manage largely thanks to on-site learning.

"While previously we were experiencing a glaring shortage of employees in several departments, by now we've more or less reached a point where we can manage," Vahula acknowledged. "I can unequivocally say that without this school, we wouldn't be able to fulfill the central hospital obligations placed on Pärnu Hospital."

Liis-Katrin Avandi, a nurse at Pärnu Hospital's Internal Disease Clinic who graduated from the nursing program at the hospital last year, is pleased with the opportunity to attend school close to home.

"I had weighed for years whether to continue my studies in the medical field, but it's hard to travel to Tartu or Tallinn when your home, life and work are all in Pärnu," Avandi recalled.

In cooperation with local hospitals, TTK runs nursing programs not just in Pärnu, but also in Kuressaare, Haapsalu and Kohtla-Järve as well.

While the number of nursing school spots at both TTK and Tartu Health Care College (TTHKK) has been increased over the last three years and both colleges combined enroll a total of more than 700 nursing students a year, Estonia is nonetheless still failing to train sufficient numbers of nurses.

"If you look at the growth in demand for healthcare services, the average age of nurses as well as the number of nurses admitted, it just doesn't cover the needs of healthcare," highlighted Ülle Ernits, rector at TTK.

According to the Estonian Nurses Union (EÕL), several options exist for alleviating the nursing shortage.

"One way is to increase the number of professional care workers in hospitals," said EÕL president Anneli Kannus. "Another is regulating nurses' workloads and the fair treatment of wages, training and career opportunities."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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