When we gain foreign nurses, do their nations lose key people?

Hiring foreign-trained nurses may help alleviate our nursing shortage, but in a world where basic health care is in short supply in many nations, the practice troubles some people.

"The biggest issue is the ethical one," said Susan King, executive director of the Oregon Nurses Association. "Should the United States steal nurses from another country that needs their nurses as much as we do?"

On the other hand, America has historically welcomed people who want to work here and use their skills to better their lives, said Paul Foster, president of O'Grady Peyton, the Florida-based medical staffing company that hired five foreign-trained nurses who now work at Rogue Valley Medical Center.

"At the end of the day, the ethics rest with each individual," Foster said. "Each individual has the right to choose where they want to live and where they want to work. What we want to do is have as many nurses as possible by making nursing as attractive as possible."

Foster said nursing is increasingly part of the global labor market.

"There are foreign-trained nurses working everywhere," he said.

Anne Shevlin, interim director of patient care at RVMC, said the system works both ways. "Many American nurses travel to these countries (to work)," she said. "It's a trade-off."

Shevlin said she supports giving foreign-trained nurses the opportunity to gain work experience that they may be able to take back to their countries of origin.

"Our world is so much smaller these days," she said.

Some hospitals have chosen not to hire foreign-trained nurses because of the ethical issues they perceived. Providence Medford Medical Center has hired foreign-trained nurses who obtained green cards on their own, but the Providence Health System in Oregon has so far declined to use international staffing firms, said Marilyn Watkins, a nurse recruiter for the Providence Health System.

"We did not want to draw nurses from countries that need them," Watkins said.

She said the growing need for nurses, however, is causing Providence to revisit the idea of hiring foreign nurses through staffing companies. "We're currently considering bringing in three or four companies to hear their presentation on how they recruit nurses."

Nurses unions fear that hiring too many foreign nurses could eventually drive down wages for American-trained nurses. King said more resources need to be committed to retain existing nurses and expand nursing education to make sure that anyone who wants to be a nurse can become one.

She said Senate Bill 4, now before the Legislature, would allocate an additional $3.75 million for student loan incentives, recruitment programs and other nursing education improvements. SB 4 had moved to the Joint Ways and Means Committee by the end of last week.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

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