Survey: Young people losing interest in nursing

Due to poor pay, a high workload and the coronavirus crisis, many young caregivers are considering switching professions.

In two different surveys, young caregivers reported that they suffered significantly more during the coronavirus situation than their older counterparts. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

About three-quarters of young nurses are considering switching professions, according to a survey by the Finnish Nurses Association conducted during the coronavirus period.

There is already a growing shortage of nurses and caregivers in Finland. According to the Social Insurance Institution Kela, about one-third of practical nurses and a quarter of nurses will retire over the next decade.

In addition, the number of young people applying to be caregivers is on the decline. Last spring, just under 8,700 students applied for practical nurse training courses — 3,500 fewer than five years ago.

In fact, nurses were at the top of the list of occupations facing a shortage with practical nurses in sixth place, according to the local employment offices’ occupational barometer in August.

Caregivers lament poor pay

The biggest cause of dissatisfaction among carers is poor pay, according to a recent survey by the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals in Finland (Tehy).

The basic salary of a freshly-graduated nurse is about 2,500 euros. That’s about 700 euros less than in Sweden or Denmark, and over 1,500 euros less than a hospital engineer working in the same job with the same length of training.

Young respondents of the Tehy survey criticised the low wages in the care sector, as well as staff shortages and the mental workload in particular.

"We young people know that we have the right to demand better working conditions. People in the care industry are too used to the fact that work now is what it is," said Marika Eira, a 20-year-old practical nurse from Oulu.

Coronavirus crisis worsened situation

According to Eira, apart from the hectic work hours and the demanding nature of the work, the anxiety and fear brought about by the coronavirus crisis proved to be the last straw — she has decided to resign and study in another field.

"I am concerned that during the coronavirus period it has been taken for granted that caregivers do more work and expose themselves and their families," she said.

Due to the provisions of the Emergency Powers Act that came into effect from spring to summer this year, many carers had to postpone or cancel vacation, work overtime or change their primary work tasks.

Young caregivers have it tougher

The pandemic situation was particularly tougher on younger caregivers, the surveys revealed.

According to Tehy, 76 per cent of young carers feel that coronavirus crisis has reduced their well-being at work.

Another survey by the Finnish Nurses Association revealed that nurses under the age of 35 experienced stress, anxiety, despair, guilt, and concern for their own tolerance to pressure more often than their older colleagues.

Anu Kaihlanen, a specialist researcher at public health agency THL studied the so-called "transition shock" experienced by younger nurses. The sudden onset of greater responsibility and increased workload takes many freshly-minted caregivers by surprise and forces some of them to reconsider their career paths.

Kaihlanen estimated that the coronavirus crisis exacerbated the shock as workplace orientation was more rushed due to the pandemic situation and young caregivers were plunged into the deep end too soon.

"The corona situation has probably also concretised for many that the wage level is not extremely high, but the career often involves a heavy workload and a high occupational risk," Kaihlanen added.

Eira said she would like to be able to return to the industry in the future, but not before there is a change in the way things work.

"There is constant talk of a shortage of nurses and nurses are trained every year. But perhaps now we need to think more about how to ensure that caregivers already in this field will stay there," Eira said.