Friday, November 16, 2007

Recruitment and retention in health-where to from here?

Photo: Doing some serious conference networking.

There's no doubt that there's a very serious problem with recruitment and retention in health on a global level as reiterated at the 2007 Recruitment and Retention in Health Conference at the Gold Coast - and it is not going to get any easier. There are a number of reasons for this: poor pay, working conditions including shift work, aging workforce and less interest in altruistic health professions ie people want to do more than just 'help people' - they want a career that is going to pay them a decent salary and so on.

A number of solutions were mooted at the conference such as re-branding of institutions that are trying to recruit, professionals given incentives to work at an institution, retirees enticed back into the workforce as volunteers and family members encouraged to provide basic 'nursing' care in the hospital. But none of these measures, especially those that involve re-branding or developing fancy new web sites address the underpinning issues of working conditions at floor level. You can throw all the money you like at nurses and midwives but if their working lives are made a misery by horizontal or vertical violence, or they cannot have a social life because of shift work, you are not going to keep practitioners especially young people.

The two presentations that were of most interest to me were those presented by Associate Professor Sandra West from the University of Sydney. The first session was about her work with new graduate nurses, looking at how they adapted to shift work. Whilst they seemed to adapt physiologically by one year, they were still struggling to sort out their social/domestic lives. They were also starting to show signs of burnout, which I think is an alarming result. Sandra called for regular and reliable shift patterns that enables work-life balance and effective work/sleep patterns.

The second presentation was based on Sandra's work with mid-life women and how they cope with shift work, particularly through menopause. The first shock I got was that I am defined as mid-life!! I took immediate umbrage with this! Suffice to say, it was no surprise that women find it very hard to juggle work demands of shift work with family/home commitments which often or not included elderly relatives as well as young families. The menopause is a time when additional stress and pressure is thrown into the mix, and Sandra suggested that during that time, women should be encouraged to work 'nine-to-five' hours which did not interfere with their sleep patterns, which are being affected by the menopause. She felt that that would help to keep women in the profession.

What did I personally get out of the conference? It certainly reinforced my interest in employment issues. I dearly want to look at the effect of shifts and on-call duties on midwives in New Zealand and incorporate that into a national study of why midwives are (if, indeed they are) leaving the profession. So if anyone has any ideas about collaboration or funding, please let me know.

The other valuable outcome was the networking I did, which usually is the main value of conferences. There was great interest in my concept of e-mentoring as a means of addressing some of the issues that face people in the workplace. So, watch this space to see what eventuates from this conference.

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