There is a natural tendency for most to picture a woman the moment the word ‘nurse’ is used. However, there are a lot of men who have entered this profession because of the scope it offers them. Shailesh Kumar* is one such male nurse. He was working at a private hospital in Delhi but because of an inadequate salary, shifted to Qatar and currently works at construction site where he tends to workers who injure themselves or are ailing.
The enormous shortage of nurses in India is known and accepted. What is less known is that there is a huge unmet demand for male nurses, especially for older patients and in emergency services at hospitals. However, owing to the low pay and better job prospects outside India, many of these trained nurses go overseas after gaining a couple of years of experience.
“There are no salary advantages in India,” said Kumar*. “I used to earn Rs 25,000 a month and it is very tough to survive on that salary in a city like Delhi. I need to take care of my wife and child and so I started searching for opportunities abroad. I now earn close to a lakh a month.” He passed the online exam, which is a requirement to become a nurse in Gulf countries, and has been working in Qatar for six months now.
The poor salary that staff nurses receive is creating big problems for the medical community as retaining nurses here is getting tougher and their need is only growing. “There is a big need for nurses today mainly for the older age bracket,” said F. Beulah, Research Coordinator at Voluntary Health Services. “Often not a single problem that they suffer from but multiple ailments. Male nurses are physically stronger and are capable of doing multiple things without tiring easily. They are helpful with lifting patients and help with physiotherapy to rehabilitate stroke patients.”
Though remuneration varies from hospital to hospital, depending on their qualification, nurses earn from Rs. 6,000 to about 25,000 at the upper limit in a month. It is widely accepted that the Central government salary for nurses is well above what the others
get and often these nurses tend to stick. Those who are involved in military nursing services are regarded to be the best paid and with the best privileges.
With an ageing 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. G. R. Ravindranath, general secretary, Doctors Association for Social Equality. “With the death rate going down due to medical advancements, the geriatric population is on the rise and so are non-communicable diseases due to lifestyle issues. Male nurses tend to be better at handling hefty patients and are more agile when it comes to accident cases and emergency situations.” This was a sentiment that was echoed by everyone, including the female nurses.
In fact, there is an alarming difference in the nurse to patient ratio as well owing to the serious shortage. “Ideally, there should be a ratio of 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. In order to fill these vacancies, we need both men and women. More men need to be brought into the profession and the only way to do that is to give them a better pay and more recognition for their work.”
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 the patients who are completely bed-ridden or have terminal illnesses want a male nurse,” said Saraswathy P., Operations In-charge at the care-giving 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% more than a female nurse for the same job.” Saraswathy has 85 nurses and nursing assistants available for care-giving of which 11 are male.
Male nurses are only 10%, at most, of the entire nurse population in some of the leading private hospitals. This number is higher in government hospitals, according to sources with some hospitals having a male nurse population that is about 30-35% of the nurse population.
There are others who feel that home care-giving can often be very expensive and that the only way to make healthcare more affordable for all is to have more trained nurses. “There is an increasing requirement for trained nurses in geriatric care” said Dr. V.S. Natarajan, who happens to be India’s first professor in Geriatric Medicine and was awarded the 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. We need more nurses who can provide affordable healthcare.”
NOTE: *Names changed on request