Global Nursing Shortage and Worldwide Opportunity

You have likely heard countless references to the United States’ nursing shortage and its impact on the nation’s health care system. In fact, the shortage and the increasing demand for registered nurses may even be what led you to pursue a career in nursing.

6 min read

According to the American Hospital Association’s TrendWatch, the current demand for nurses exceeds 126,000 and is projected to grow upwards of 800,000 by 2020, safeguarding the job security of nurses nationwide. In order to combat the shortage, nursing educators continue to innovate and improve the education and pipeline of nurses prepared to enter the workforce. However, the current education system cannot yet meet the demands of the job market, meaning there continues to be vast opportunity for educated nurses to secure employment across the country.

The nursing shortage is not exclusive to the US. The growing demand for educated nurses is consistent across the globe, especially in developing countries where high population growth heightens the demand on health care systems. The growing global nursing shortage has raised enough concern in recent years that the International Council of Nurses (ICN) launched the Global Nursing Review Initiative to “clarify the extent of the global nursing shortage; provide an analysis of key nursing workforce issues globally; identify priorities for policy intervention; and develop recommendations to address issues.” According to the ICN, an increasing number of countries, the US included, seek to fill the void in their nursing workforces by recruiting nurses from other countries.

The global nurse migration, as it has been termed, has become a source of controversy among the global health care community for not doing much to solve the nursing crisis, but rather simply redistributing existing resources. As an example, although the US employs more international nurses than any other country, the demand for skilled nurses still far outweighs the supply. Even so, nurses continue to leave developing countries, such as the Philippines, Nigeria, India and Russia, for opportunities in the US, perpetuating the shortage in these countries. In reaction to this pattern, many countries have implemented policies to make nurse migration more difficult and expensive for nurses wishing to enter or exit the country.

Bottom line: securing a job abroad as a nurse may require you to jump through some hoops, but there are plenty of opportunities for skilled nurses in every corner of the world. US-educated nurses are highly skilled and well-regarded internationally, and there are several paths for nurses to take to expand their careers globally.

Read on to learn about opportunities and other considerations if you’re thinking of taking your career in nursing overseas:

1. Become a licensed nurse in another country.

  • How common is it? United States-educated nurses migrating to another country to pursue nursing is less common than foreign-educated nurses immigrating into the US, although it is possible.
  • What does it take? Depending on which country you wish to work, you’ll likely have to apply for a nursing license from the country’s nursing governing body (the Nursing & Midwifery Council in the UK for example), which often includes an application fee. You may also be required to take a language fluency exam.
  • What are the biggest barriers? Different countries have various policies and regulations around nurse migration, so there may be several hoops to jump through in order to obtain a license in the country of your desire. If it’s not an English-speaking country, you’ll need to be fluent in the native language in order to communicate well with patients and obtain employment. Be prepared for the process to take 6-8 months or more.
  • Things to consider: It may be difficult to find a job outside the US without assistance from a health care recruiter, such as HealthCare Recruiters International. You may also want to consider opportunities to serve as a civilian employee at a US embassy or military base. Finally, keep in mind that the average salary for nurses is higher in the US than in most other countries, so be prepared for a smaller paycheck if you nurse abroad.

2. Try travel nursing.

  • How common is it? Again, most travel nursing agencies focus solely on US-based placement, but there are several agencies that offer opportunities for international travel nursing positions in Canada, Australia, the Middle East and more.
  • What does it take? You must be an RN to apply for a travel nursing position, and most agencies prefer at least one year of experience in a hospital setting in your specialty area. You may also be required to take a language proficiency exam.
  • What are the biggest barriers? Once accepted by the agency, you’ll need to obtain a visa, which can be sponsored by either a hospital or the travel agency itself. Once you have the visa, you can renew it annually.
  • Things to consider: Travel nursing is a fantastic option for nurses wishing to experience new places and cultures while still pursuing a career in nursing, as housing and travel are often included as part of the package. However, most international placements require a 1-2 year commitment. While Australia and the UK are popular destinations for travel nurses given their common language, don’t rule out the Middle East, where wages are generally quite good and hospital facilities are state-of-the-art.

 3. Serve as a nurse on a medical mission trip.

  • How common is it? Medical mission trips are very common, and skilled nurses are highly sought after to serve on both short-term and long-term trips. Because mission trips do not require working visas and other regulatory steps, many nurses use these trips as opportunities to travel abroad and put their nursing skills to use.
  • What does it take? Most medical mission trip agencies, such as, International Medical Relief, organize teams of health care professionals to travel to underserved areas for periods of several days to several weeks. You many also learn about opportunities through local organizations such as schools, churches and hospitals. Because of the widespread opportunities, there are generally roles for nurses of all degree levels and specialties to travel abroad as part of a medical mission team. You will, however, need to have necessary travel documents such as a passport, as well as essential vaccinations.
  • What are the biggest barriers? Unlike obtaining a nursing license for employment in another country, serving as a nurse on a medical mission trip does not require a visa or other special licensing.
  • Things to consider? Medical mission trips often require funding from the volunteers themselves, as well as other donors and supports, to cover the costs of travel and medical supplies. Depending on the trip and planning organization, volunteers may be required to raise as much as $2,000-$3,000 individually. In addition, you’ll need to consider the cost of obtaining a passport and necessary vaccinations before your trip.

The growing nursing shortage is a global issue and educated nurses are in demand all over the world. There are several opportunities to use your nursing degree to travel to new places and serve those in need. If you’re ready to take the next step towards a new career in nursing, then you’re in the right place to find the nursing education program that is right for you!