Nurses in the West earn far more
With hospitals only able to generate nine yuan a day per patient from nursing services, they're reluctant to add more staff and often overload the case load of their nursing staff with patients.
Doctors provide a much more lucrative way for hospitals to make money. Some are notorious for charging patients for unneeded drugs and unnecessary treatments.
Many physicians are not only responsible for generating income they're also stingy when it comes to hiring or purchasing needed equipment. Some doctors stuff extra beds into already overcrowded wards, with no additional support for the nursing staff.
Lin Lin says her department's workload has increased dramatically over the past four years but no new nurses have been hired. "I love my job," she said. "But nurses are only human. I only have two hands."
At the end of 2009, China employed 300,000 fewer nurses than the US with a population barely a quarter of China's. China.com.cn reported that 2.18 million registered nurses were employed in China, but almost twice that number is needed to meet targeted nurse-patient ratio of three to one. The shortfall of nurses in China is estimated at 1.9 million, according to the web portal.
While healthcare experts stress the importance of nursing in patients' recovery, the contribution of Chinese nurses is often discounted in the rush to generate revenue.
"The financial self-reliance of hospitals dictates that in the power struggle between doctors and nurses, the former always seems to
have the upper hand," said Mao Quan'an, the Ministry of Health spokesman.
At Nurse Lin Lin's hospital, the staff is anxious to see how the administration will implement the Ministry of Health's newly-launched "high quality patient care project."
It requires hospitals to provide greater bedside care for patients, which will no doubt further add to the workload of nurses.
Families will no longer be required to feed and bathe their sick relatives. The role of privately hired nurses or attendants, who are often hired by families for less than 100 yuan a day, is to be curtailed.
While Lin Lin agrees the project is a good attempt to improve the quality of patient care, she worries it won't amount to much if there isn't additional investment in nursing. "Besides loading us with more duties, I don't think it will do much to change our status," she said.
She's also not hopeful the planned increase in the daily nursing fee, which is expected to jump 10 times to about 100 yuan, will be ploughed back into her area of expertise. She worries the nurse-generated revenue will be siphoned off by the hospital's administration.
The new bedside-care standards have already been initiated at designated hospitals, and are expected to be introduced in hospitals nationwide soon. Some critics argue that the new standards will only succeed in encouraging more nurses to head overseas or to leave the profession altogether.
"For many nurses in China, their sense of pride in their profession is in crisis," said Mao.
Of course many hospitals throughout China marked International Nurses' Day with celebrations and kind words about nurses, leaving many to hope it won't be another year before their contribution is noticed again.