"There is very high demand for nurses," says Samantha Pang Mei-che, head of Polytechnic University's school of nursing.
The Hospital Authority plans to recruit 1,100 nurses in 2010-2011 and hired about 1,000 to address shortages in the sector by the end of last year, a spokesperson says.
Caroline Chui Ying-yu, principal of Hong Kong Baptist Hospital's school of nursing, says many private hospitals are also short of nursing staff, partly as a result of an increase in expectant mothers. "Some private hospitals have refrained from opening new wards due to not having enough staff," she says.
The shortfall is exacerbated by an ageing population and the availability of better treatment for chronic medical conditions. In 2008, one in eight Hongkongers were over 65; the ratio is expected to be one out in six by 2021. Chui says that while more nursing professionals are needed to care for the elderly, many service agencies for senior citizens have not been able to hire sufficient nurses.
In recent years, some hospitals have re-established their nursing schools to ease the shortfall. Baptist Hospital reopened its school in 2005 and has offered a diploma programme in general nursing since 2007. The course is designed for enrolled nurses - or those without a university degree - who want to become registered nurses, who typically have attained a bachelor's degree in nursing.
In Hong Kong, undergraduate programmes in nursing are available at Polytechnic University, the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University and the Open University of Hong Kong. Graduates enjoy a range of career options and can choose to work in public or private hospitals, schools, community centres or elderly service agencies.
Pang says the nursing curriculum is designed to equip students with critical-thinking skills and research capabilities, discarding the old-fashioned idea of nursing as just a helping hand to doctors. In reality, nurses work in demanding environments and are expected to deliver highly skilled health care as part of a multidisciplinary team.
The starting salary of enrolled nurses is about HK$14,000 a month, while registered general nurses receive about HK$22,000. They can also pursue advanced qualifications to get promoted or become researchers or educators.
"Salary wise, nursing is an attractive career option for graduates. But, of course, they will need to put in a lot of effort [into studying and working]," Pang says.
A career in nursing is also relatively stable. "There will always be jobs around as long as you are willing to work hard," Chui says. "And helping people is very satisfying."
She adds that personal development to improve knowledge of oneself and others is very important. "Without that, nurses can neither handle life-and-death issues maturely nor understand the needs of their patients with empathy."
"Some private hospitals have refrained from opening new wards due to not having enough staff."
CAROLINE CHUI PRINCIPAL, SCHOOL OF NURSING, HONG KONG BAPTIST HOSPITAL