A report out this week has revealed that the number of Kiwis choosing to study nursing has hit a near 10-year low, and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation has called for action from the government.
They say having locally trained nurses is more important than ever, given the borders are closed to overseas trained nurses who have traditionally filled the gap.
Filipino nurses, for example, made up 8 per cent of the nursing workforce in 2018, after New Zealand Pākehā (62 per cent) and other European (14 per cent).
Health Minister Andrew Little has said it's been difficult to put a cohesive recruitment plan in place because each of the country's 20 DHBs have different means and methods of attracting young people to nursing but he's hoping the new entity, Health NZ, will fix that. I'm not sure it will.
Nursing was a profession blessed in the past with being one of the three jobs girls were funnelled into. Teaching, nursing or dental nursing.
That was pretty much it in the fifties and sixties. So you had intelligent, inspirational, driven young women confined to one of three paths.
These days, young women and men know they can be anything they want to be. And nursing doesn't feature high on the list.
A study from 2020, Drawing our Future, asked more than 7000 primary and intermediate aged Kiwi kids to draw the job they wanted when they left school.
More than 50 per cent of the participants wanted to do just one of nine jobs – and some of them were jobs that simply weren't a thing when I was at school.
Top of the list was professional sportsperson. By far and away that was the most popular choice.
Next came a vet, a police officer, a teacher, then a social media or YouTube influencer.
Being a nurse came in at 24th on the list, just above being an astronaut (25th) and a fast-food worker (26th). It's good to see that so many children are drawn to the service professions (police work and teaching) but I suppose it's understandable that nursing is languishing around the middle of desirable career options.
There's nothing 'grammable about changing an infected wound dressing and you can't really put a clip on TikTok of you being vomited on by an abusive drunk and expect to get the likes.
There were 15,000 New Zealanders who chose to study nursing in 2020 but talking to student nurses, not all of them are going to make it onto the wards.
A number of young students spoken to by the NZ Herald talked of the satisfaction they got from their work, the enjoyment of being in a career that was of value and significance, but they had anxiety about whether they would ever be able to get on the property ladder working as a registered nurse in New Zealand.
They talked of a lack of staffing and resourcing – something echoed by older nurses on the job – leading to anxiety about whether they were able to do their best and to give the patients the care they deserved. And they all talked about burnout – how much of yourself do you give to shore up gaps in the system before you become a patient yourself.
The former nurses I know are mostly in my mum's friendship group, not mine. They worked right up into their seventies because they absolutely loved what they did.
They got enormous satisfaction at being part of a team of skilled medical professionals who were making important, often lifesaving, plans for their patients. They felt valued by their colleagues and by their communities.
The new generation of nurses have a much tougher road to travel. Some patients and their families in public hospitals are often disrespectful, disruptive and downright violent.
Nurses talk of bullying and a toxic culture in many DHBs. They're exhausted because vacancies simply aren't being filled at many of our hospitals.
And increasingly, when young people are looking at the pros and cons of different careers, they're wondering whether nursing is worth it.
It's up to the highly paid managers of our hospitals to prove to these young people that it is.