Nurturing our young generation in healthcare profession

May 14, 2019 13:11
Society must appreciate the valuable contributions of the healthcare industry. Photo: GovHK

Amid an aging population, demand for home and community care services in Hong Kong will continue to grow.

The average age of the city’s healthcare workers was 52 in 2012, and the vacancy rate for healthcare workers was as high as 18 percent in 2017.

This suggests that the local healthcare industry is facing an acute manpower shortage. Indeed, we have to put more effort into nurturing our young generation in the healthcare profession.

A job retention survey jointly conducted by the School of Nursing and Health Studies of the Open University of Hong Kong and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong interviewed 137 respondents aged 18 to 30 who are currently working full-time as health workers or personal care workers.

Around 35 percent are dissatisfied with their present jobs, and up to 40 percent do not want to continue working as health workers or personal care workers in the future.

Some of the respondents said many in society look down on their profession and consider their duties obnoxious. Even members of their families are opposed to their work, a fact that further reduces the industry's appeal to young people.

Being a health worker is not as simple as it seems; it requires a high level of professional knowledge and skills. They also have to be attentive and patient, especially when caring for the elderly.

On top of bathing and feeding patients, health workers are also involved in providing professional medical support such as wound care and assisting occupational therapists in conducting cognitive exercises for the elderly.

To inspire more young people to enter the healthcare profession, the government launched the "first hire, then train" pilot scheme in 2013, and this was followed by the Navigation Scheme for Young Persons in Care Services in 2015.

Both schemes allow students to receive professional training and opportunities for overseas study exchanges, while providing them with guaranteed employment once they complete the two-year program and pass the examination to become registered health workers.

By the end of 2018, the navigation scheme has recruited 1,018 students, with 287 still pursuing their studies. However, only 186 of the 314 graduates were hired by healthcare organizations.

These figures indicate a considerable number of dropouts from the scheme, and even if they complete the course, many are not joining the industry.

In order to attract and retain young healthcare workers and consequently address the acute manpower shortage in the industry, opportunities for career development and promotion, reasonable pay scales and continuous professional training should be in place.

The government must help in fostering a society that appreciates the valuable contributions of the healthcare industry so that young workers would feel respect from the community, maintain pride in their work, and strengthen their sense of belonging to the industry.

The government should also promote the adoption of technology to ease the workload of healthcare workers, such as the introduction of machines to facilitate the mobility of elderly patients.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 2

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative councilor and head of nursing and health studies in the Open University of Hong Kong