When the Covid-19 pandemic hit foreign markets such as Europe, America, and Australia, these regions faced a wide shortage of healthcare workers, forcing them to start looking for medical personnel in Africa and South America.
However, getting qualified nurses from these regions to fill the available positions proved to be a challenge, one which provided an opportunity for Musa Mwale and his colleagues in the US to launch a recruiting agency in Kenya.“Having worked in the US for several years, we had witnessed the shortage of nurses that was in the country, even before the pandemic. This shortage created a huge demand for foreign educated nurses,” notes Mwale, the CEO of Nurse Inc, during an interview with Powering SMEs.Domestic supplyHe explains that burn outs and retirement of nurses have outpaced increase in domestic supply, with over 1 million additional nurses needed in the US by 2030. Ironically, with all these available opportunities, back in Kenya, many qualified nurses remain unemployed.“Kenyan nurses are among the most preferred nurses by the international market because they can communicate in English, which makes it easier for them to adjust to the new environment. But getting in touch with employers and meeting the strict requirements to work in the US prevent many of these nurses from getting work abroad,” adds Mwale.With this in mind, about a year ago, together with his co-directors, they invested about Sh6 million into setting up an agency, Nurse Inc. Primarily, the agency identifies different nursing boards in the US and look at their requirements for qualifying foreign nurses to work in the country.
Once they get the requirements from all the relevant agencies, they consolidate the information and share it with the nurses to enable them make an informed decision before applying for work and moving to work abroad.“Lack of information about the foreign nursing market makes most local qualified nurses shy away from looking for opportunities abroad, even when there are none available back home,” he adds.Also read:Start-ups invited to apply to prized Maasai Mara innovation competitionThe agency also runs a centre for conducting a specialised exam known as the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), that any nurse aspiring to work abroad has to sit for.“The Philippines, Kenya and India account for 94 percent of foreign trained nurses working in the US and Canada. Philippines and India have NCLEX exam centres. As it is now, Kenyans have to go to India or South Africa, who are not even players in the market, to do the exam. You can imagine someone investing to travel all the way, then unfortunately not manage to pass the exam,” Mwale points out.Upon establishing that a nurse has successfully passed the test, they then work with the government to facilitate accreditation to the international licensing board, as well as develop working contracts with associate nursing agencies in the US.Currently, the firm, which he runs alongside four other directors in the US, as well as four staff in Kenya, targets nurses from the entire Eastern African region. Less than a year in operation, Mwale says that the demand for their services is already quite high.“We are not only dealing with the nurses who are approaching us directly, but we are also dealing with other nurse recruiting agencies, who, rather than send their clients to South Africa, are sending them to us, so that they can book the exam.The business hopes to reach about 1,000 nurses by the end of the year, but a negative history of recruitment, especially in the Middle East where job seekers have previously been scammed, is impeding a speedy uptake of their services.Exploited and tortured“People want to go work abroad, but they have also heard stories about how in the past some workers were taken from Kenya and exported to other countries, then became exploited and tortured. All these negative stories have made it very difficult for people to look for opportunities outside of Kenya,” Mwale, adding that an instant gratification mentality is also a major stumbling block to their business.“People also expect instant results, yet this is a process which involves other bodies. It involves approvals from the Kenya examining body and agencies in the US and UK, which take time. So, when you tell people it will take a certain period, they say that the waiting time is too long.”He is calling on the government to work with industry stakeholders to make it possible for more qualified nurses to get work opportunities abroad.“We have many trained unemployed nurses in Kenya, yet on the other side in the US, we have such a high demand for qualified nurses. If nurses cannot get enough opportunities to work at home, then it is important for the government to create an enabling environment for them to move abroad and work there,” he concludes.[email protected]