Health workers with right skills in right places needed

OECD Observer

©ICorbis-Sygma/Stephane Klein

The number of doctors and nurses has reached an all-time high in the OECD area. Some 3.6 million doctors and 10.8 million nurses were working in OECD countries in 2013, up from 2.9 and 8.3 respectively in 2000. Jobs in the health and social sector now account for more than 10% of total employment in many OECD countries.

The surge in the number of doctors has been particularly sharp in Korea, Mexico and Turkey, from relatively low levels in 2000. As for nurses, their number has increased in nearly all OECD countries.

Most of this growth has been driven by substantial increases in student intakes in medical, nursing education and training programmes. Immigrant doctors and nurses have also contributed to the rise, with foreign-trained doctors accounting for 17% of active doctors in OECD countries in 2013-14 and foreign-trained nurses representing 6% of all nurses.

Yet, most of health workers report a mismatch between their skills and their job requirements. About half of doctors and 40% of nurses feel they are under-skilled for some of the tasks they have to perform, while, at the same time, a large majority of doctors and nurses report being over-skilled for some of the work they have to do.

The time is now ripe for reforming training and employment strategies, according to Health Workforce Policies in OECD countries: Right Jobs, Right Skills, Right Places. This OECD report lays out a three-point action plan to better respond to people’s changing health needs. The first recommendation concerns jobs: governments should ensure that a sufficient and proper mix of health workers are trained, instead of unduly relying on importing talent from other countries, particularly developing countries already suffering from acute shortages of human resources in health. Also, health workers should be given the opportunity to adapt their skills throughout their careers to deliver high-quality health services in patient-centred approaches. Finally, in order to assure a more equal provision of health services geographically, policy makers might use financial incentives to promote a more even distribution of health workers and services, and make a greater use of s telemedicine. 

(2016), Health Workforce Policies in OECD Countries: Right Jobs, Right Skills, Right Places, OECD Health Policy Studies, OECD Publishing

©OECD Observer March 2016

Economic data

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