Latin America has seen tremendous societal growth and development in the past 50 years, bringing entire industries and markets to the 20 economies and 12 dependencies which make up this diverse region. Nursing is one particular sector that has played in an important role in the advancement of medical care in this part of the world. Midwives are nurses who provide obstetric care to pregnant and nursing women. Thus, the fields of clinical nursing and midwifery are closely related and many professionals opt to become a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) to have the option of performing both duties.
Unfortunately, conducting research into Latin America’s nursing industry can lead you down a rabbit hole of official reports and studies with no clear direction or conclusion. In this simplified guide, we’ll go over some of the most insightful stats and facts that describe the current state of the nursing and midwifery industries in Latin America:
Online Schools are Becoming More Popular for New Nurses and Midwives
As is evident by looking at any satellite map zoomed out, there are many vast rural areas in Latin America. Most of these towns and villages do not have any local universities or nursing degree programs. Of course, with about 30,000 new babies born in Latin America every day, the constant need for midwife training and education is also a factor. Most students who do not live near a university have no option but to attend an online midwifery school or nursing program to obtain the credentials needed to begin their careers.
There are More Than 1200 Nursing Schools in Latin America
According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1280 schools of nursing have been identified throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. That might seem like a lot, but when you consider the fact the region has a total population of more than 630 million people as a whole, that means there’s about one nursing school program per half a million people. These schools are also mostly concentrated in urban and metropolitan areas, and as a result much of the region does not have convenient access to local schooling.
Most of the Region is Facing a Nursing Shortage
While there are some countries in Latin America that actually have more nurses than needed, most are dealing with the opposite – a widespread shortage that is expected to last another 5-10 years. The aforementioned lack of accredited nursing schools in many places makes it unlikely for students in those areas to ever consider the possibility of becoming a nurse. Even in countries where education has been made available to citizens for free, there are still expenses and barriers to becoming a nurse or midwife.
Retiring Baby Boomers are Part of the Problem
When it comes to pinpointing a primary cause for the ongoing nursing shortage, the increased retiring of the baby boomer generation may be just as influential than the industry-wide gender disparity. This age group, which ranges from 55-75 years old, represents a growing portion of the nursing and midwife workforces in Latin America. As these individuals retire, a new wave of graduates is needed to replace them. The problem is, the training rates are not living up to the human resource needs in many areas. Also, even if you had an equal number of new graduates ready to fill the shoes of the retiring baby boomers, it can be difficult for them to get hired with no experience.
Nurse Migration is Another Issue
Many accredited nurses and midwives who live and work in Latin America have dreams of migrating to other more developed nations where they can earn higher salaries and benefit from stronger economies. This is an understandable aspiration to have as an individual, but on a larger scale it’s bad for Latin American nursing because every year thousands of nurses choose to migrate, leaving even more gaps in already concerning shortages faced by countries like Chile and Bolivia. Sadly, there’s really no way for these countries to provide an incentive for their most skilled and experienced workers to stay, so this will continue to be a factor.
Gender Disparity Follows a Global Trend
The nursing sector is largely occupied by women worldwide and this trend is also seen in Latin America, where an overwhelming majority of nurses are women. Despite the fact that Latin America is a melting pot of cultural tolerance, the world still hasn’t been able to shake the societal stereotype that says men should be doctors and women should be nurses. Dispelling and moving beyond this archaic view would help to curb the severity of the global nursing shortage.
Key Nursing Stats for Peru
Fittingly, we’ll begin our exploration into the relevant stats for each Latin American country with an overview of Peru’s nursing industry. Many countries are facing nursing shortages, but Peru may actually be able to fill the gaps in this sector by as early as 2020. By then, an estimated 66% of midwives and 74% of nurses will be employed. There are about 23 medical staff per 10,000 population, making Peru one of the most well-staffed Latin American countries in the healthcare sector. However, the vast majority of Peruvian nurses and midwife graduates may have difficulty getting hired during the first two years of their career.
Key Nursing Stats for Colombia
In Colombia, there are only about 6 nurses per 10,000 people. Despite that figure, the country’s average life expectancy is about 79. With an overall population of about 50 million, we can see that there are currently about 30,000 nurses employed in Columbia. The average salary for a nurse in Colombia is about 29,000,000 COP, which works out to about 14,000 COP per hour. To put that into perspective, that’s about $4 USD per hour. Of course, with wages like those, it makes sense that Colombian nurses would have dreams of moving to a country where the hourly wage is 5x that amount.
Key Nursing Stats for Brazil
Brazil has about 4 nurses per 10,000 inhabitants – a very low number for this metric and one that indicates a clear shortage. With a total population of about 209 million, that means there are roughly 80,000 nurses working in Brazil right now. However, being that the country has a huge land mass with plenty of rural areas, there are many rural areas in Brazil where it’s difficult or impossible to gain access to professional medical care or midwifery. Even in major cities like Rio de Janeiro there have been incidents where the country’s health ministry needed to hire medical staff on an emergency basis due to funding crises that left hospitals and clinics short-staffed.
Key Nursing Stats for Argentina
With about 4 nurses per 1,000 people, Argentina has been included on the list of the top 30 countries with the worst nursing shortages. In a country of more than 44 million people, there are only about 18,000 nurses. It is interesting to note that this country is known to have a surplus supply of physicians, so there’s a somewhat odd and unique shortage there in that the hospitals have more than enough doctors but not enough nurses. Interestingly, Argentina’s nursing shortage is about twice as bad as it was two decades ago, and many analysts suspect that the worsening is due primarily to immigration to other countries where skills earn higher salaries.
Key Nursing Stats for Bolivia
Bolivia has a total population of about 11 million and there’s approximately 1 nurse per 1,000 inhabitants. That means there are only about 1100 nurses in the entire country. This represents one of the worst nursing shortages in Latin America, a fact that isn’t surprising when you realize that Bolivia has long been ranked one of the poorest countries in the world. Th economic hardships of this region make it an unappealing place for skilled nurses and midwives to stay because almost any other country provides more pay for the same job.
Key Nursing Stats for Chile
Many people are surprised to find out that there’s a nursing shortage in Chile, as it widely known that the government recently made education freely available to all citizens. However, with such an abundance of career opportunities to choose from, nursing and midwifery become relatively undesirable careers. The country has a population of more than 18,000,000 and there are only 0.145 nurses per 1000 inhabitants. That’s one of the lowest per capita densities of nurses in the world, and unless the job is made a more appealing option to prospective students, it’s unlikely that the shortage will be resolved any time soon.
Nursing Stats for Ecuador
The nursing shortage in Ecuador is not as bad as it is in other Latin American countries, with about 2 nurses per 1000 inhabitants. The nation saw significant growth in the number of new nurses that appeared between the years of 1998 and 2008, seeing an increase from 5/10,000 to more than 18/10,000 during that period. However, Ecuador has a very high number of high school dropouts and only a very small percentage of the population will actually attend a university, so it seems unlikely that the nursing sector will continue its upward trend beyond the wave of retiring baby boomers that will leave the workforce between 2020-2025.
Nursing Stats for Guatemala
Guatemala is another Latin American county that has very low number of nurses per capita at only 0.864 per 1,000 inhabitants. With a population of more than 14,000,000 and an economy that has a very large wealth gap between its poorest and richest citizens, Guatemala is in dire need of new nurses and midwives. Despite having the largest economy in Central America, this is a country where more than 60% of the people live in poverty. While education is free in this country, the supplies needed to complete schooling are still expensive for the average citizen, creating another barrier for would-be medical students.
Nursing Stats for Mexico
It wouldn’t make sense to cover Latin America’s nursing industry without discussing the current situation in Mexico. The country’s government recently reported that another 255,000 nurses are needed in order to meet the World Health Organization’s guidelines of having 6 nurses per 100,000 inhabitants. At the moment, Mexico only has about 4 nurses per 100,000, with a total of about a half a million nurses who service a population of more than 129 million. The areas with the worst nursing shortages in Mexico include Veracruz, Michoacan, Queratero, and Puebla.
Nursing Stats for the Caribbean
Finally, since the Caribbean and Latin America are typically bunched together into the same overall region, it’s only right to discuss this area’s stats as well. There are about 1.25 nurses per 1,000 inhabitants in the English-speaking Caribbean. That translates to about 8,000 nurses working in this region. As of 2006, the unmet demand for nurses in the Caribbean was 3,300. By 2025, that number is expected to reach 10,000. Every 5 years, roughly 2,000 nurses leave the Caribbean to migrate to higher-paying countries. This statistic highlights the common problem that many Latin American countries are having – the inability to keep their most valuable medical staff from migrating.
Why Students are Choosing Online Programs Over Offline Schools
By reading the above statistics and insights, you start to see a very clear picture of a region where pursuing a career as a nurse doesn’t always seem like the most beneficial career option. Many students are opting for the online route because it gives them the ability to become accredited by a foreign university. Credentials offered by schools that are based in developed countries are generally preferred.
A degree from a US-based or European university may look better on a future job application than a nursing degree earned from a small or obscure university located in Central or South America. That factor alone often motivates ambitious students to pursue an education abroad or through an online distance learning institution. In closing, online degree programs seemingly offer more prestige than offline Latin American schools, which translates to more migration and career advancement opportunities.