CHENNAI: Think of a nurse and a picture of a woman comes to mind. But, women alone being nurses is passe’. For, there are a lot of men who have entered this profession because of the scope it offers. Shailesh Kumar is one such male nurse. From working at a private hospital in Delhi, he had shifted to Qatar and is employed at construction site where he tends to workers who injure themselves or are ailing.
The enormous shortage of nurses in India is known. What is less known is the huge demand for male nurses, especially for older patients and in emergency services at hospitals. However, owing to low pay in India and better job prospects outside, many of these trained nurses go overseas. “There are no salary advantages in India,” said Kumar. “I used to earn `25,000 a month and it is very tough to survive on that in a city like Delhi. I need to take care of my wife and child. I now earn close to a lakh a month,” he explained.
He passed the online exam, a requirement to become a nurse in Gulf countries, and has been working in Qatar for six months now.
Poor salary for staff nurses is creating a big problem in retaining them. “There is a big need for nurses today mainly for the older age bracket,” said F Beulah, Research Coordinator at Voluntary Health Services. “Male nurses are physically stronger and are capable of doing multiple things without tiring easily,” she added.
On an average, nurses earn from `6,000 to `25,000 a month. In Central government services, salary for nurses is well above what others get and those in military nursing service have the best pay and privileges.With an aging population and more widespread need for medical assistance, doctors are stressing the need for nurses to be paid well and retained here. “The demand in the country is very high for nurses in general and male nurses in particular,” said Dr GR Ravindranath, general secretary, Doctors Association for Social Equality.
In fact, there is an alarming difference in the nurse to patient ratio. “Ideally, it should be 1:6, but currently it stands at about 1:40 or 1:60 or sometimes even 1:80,” said a member of the Staff Nurses Union of a government hospital. “In Tamil Nadu alone, there would be at least 5,000 vacancies. To fill them, we need both men and women.”
When the patients are older men, many even demand for a male nurse to be their caregiver as it involves acts like feeding and bathing as well. “Almost 80% of patients who are either bed-ridden or with terminal illnesses want a male nurse,” said Saraswathy P, operations in-charge at care provider, Health Above 60. “The cost of a male nurse is more for home care-giving as the demand is high and the supply is extremely limited. They can get 25-30 per cent more than a female nurse for the same job,” said Saraswathy, who has 85 nurses and nursing assistants available for care-giving of which 11 are male.
Male nurses are only 10 per cent even in some of the leading hospitals. It is higher in government hospitals and according to sources it is 30 to 35 per cent in some hospitals.
“There is an increasing requirement for trained nurses in geriatric care,” said Dr VS Natarajan, who happens to be India’s first professor in Geriatric Medicine and was awarded Padma Shri in 2012. “Trained nurses are often very expensive so people make do with nursing assistants who help with basic functions but do not have much medical expertise. This needs to change.”