The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a number of reckonings and realizations, many of them sobering and painful. One such realization has been the vital (and, sadly, often overlooked) role that nurses play in healthcare systems around the globe, coupled with the difficult reckoning process of dealing with widespread nursing shortages. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), although the 27 million nurses and midwives around the world represent nearly half of the global health workforce, those same professions also represent 50% of the global shortage in healthcare workers.
The WHO also projects that an additional 9 million nurses and midwives will be needed worldwide by the year 2030. Addressing this deficit requires not only an understanding of the factors contributing to the nurse shortage, but also an awareness of the importance of nurses and the problems encountered by nurses currently working in the field. In this article, we’ll take a broad look at how the nursing shortage has manifested in Israel in recent history, its consequences, and actions that we can take to help.
The Israeli healthcare system is no stranger to nursing shortages. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue to a crisis point (as has been the case in many other places), Israel has been experiencing a dire shortage of nurses for over a decade now. As of 2019, data indicated that Israel had an average of 5 nurses per 1,000 people. While this number represents an improvement from years past, it’s still well below the average for other developed nations.
This problem has been further compounded by the concurrent shortage of doctors, and the subsequent expansion of nursing roles and responsibilities to accommodate that dearth. And even before the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses and doctors alike were feeling stretched thin. July 2020 witnessed a widespread strike among Israeli nurses in response to staff shortages that were resulting in nurses being overburdened. The following year, 2,500 medical interns turned in their resignation letters on a single day in an act of protest against the 26-hour shifts they were being required to work.
As with the shortage itself, many of the underlying factors behind the nurse shortage aren’t new. In particular, experts have identified two main causes of the nursing shortage in developed countries, including Israel: a regional lack of nurses, combined with an insufficient number of budgeted nurse positions and poor work environments.
These factors, together with the added stress of the pandemic and the widespread adoption of crisis standards of care, have resulted in extensive burnout and job dissatisfaction among nurses. Many nurses have experienced feelings of betrayal, both by their employers for failing to support them by providing adequate protective gear and equipment, and by the public for their reluctance to adopt public health measures. These experiences, in turn, have led to even more nurses leaving their jobs, thereby exacerbating the shortage.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of nurses in healthcare settings. An insufficient number of nurses doesn’t just mean longer wait times in emergency rooms. Research has shown that nursing shortages and high patient-to-nurse ratios are linked with clinical errors and higher morbidity and mortality rates. High or unmanageable patient-to-nurse ratios may decrease nurse retention, further worsening staffing shortages.
The pandemic has prompted calls for action to address the nursing shortage in Israel. While public officials have made efforts toward that end—such as making it easier for foreign medical professionals to enter the country—some people fear that such measures are short-term rather than long-term solutions. Ultimately, the problem boils down to the simple fact that Israel needs more nurses.
To address this need, the Nazareth Project is rising to the challenge. The Nazareth Academic School of Nursing was established in 1924, and since then, over 2,000 new registered nurses have passed through its doors and out into their communities. In the last two years, our graduates have passed the government nursing exam with a 100% completion rate.
Now, in Israel’s time of need, the Nazareth Academic School of Nursing is committed to expanding its reach by enlarging its teaching facilities, thereby enabling the enrollment of an additional 130 students across two degree programs. Although the school’s project has the financial backing of the Israeli Ministry of Health, an additional $850,000 is required to make this important commitment to Israel’s public health possible.
The Nazareth Project is the primary US partner of the Nazareth Trust, an organization dedicated to serving the population of the Middle East and the wider world through healthcare, education, proclamation, and service. Our work and mission are rooted in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, though we are committed to serving all peoples, regardless of faith, political affiliation, or tradition. Offerings of the Trust include the Nazareth Hospital and the Nazareth Academic School of Nursing, as well as Nazareth Village and SERVE Nazareth, both of which allow patients, students, volunteers, pilgrims, and tourists to deepen their relationship with God and one another. Contact us today for more information on our programs, or consider donating to support our work!