Physician Teodoro Herbosa, the new health secretary, stirred up the hornet’s nest when he proposed to hire nurses who failed to pass the clinical licensure examinations.

Herbosa said the proposal could be a temporary relief to fill up the shortage of about 4,500 in more than 70 government hospitals nationwide.

“In the government, you can’t work without a license,” Herbosa said in an interview.

“But I’m willing to take them if they have a diploma from an accredited school. I’ll give them a period of time to pass it… Then you make them work for five years. I’m giving them five years to pass the board.”

Herbosa said the country would run out of nurses in three to five years if the exodus to foreign hospitals did not stop.

According to data from a local nurses’ organization, only 40 percent of an estimated 500,000 registered nurses actually worked in the country’s health system.

Many nursing degree graduates preferred to work in call centers or BPO centers that offered better pay than most private hospitals.

Some nurses in private hospitals in Metro Manila get only P18,000 a month. Outside Metro Manila, the pay could be much lower.

In government hospitals, the monthly pay was at a low of P30,000 to P35,000 a month.

Entry-level physicians in government hospitals get as much as salary grade 23 or over P60,000 a month.

The nurses get only half or less of what the physicians get, but work more than twice what doctors render in a hospital to care for patients.

Thus, many nurses would endure the low pay to get a two-year experience in hospitals before applying for work in the Middle East, Singapore, the United States, Canada, and Europe, including in the United Kingdom.

In the United States, for instance, a nurse will be paid $27 to $40 per hour depending on their experience, skills, and specialty.

Operating room nurses get paid higher than those assigned in the wards and small clinics.

Most nurses in the US go to work on an average of three to four days, allowing them to take another job in another hospital or attend postgraduate studies to enhance their professional skills.

In the Philippines, nurses are made to work for 10 to 12 hours with only one day of rest.

Overworked and with low pay, nurses are leaving the country in droves, forcing the Philippines to impose a cap of 5,000 nurses allowed to leave the country during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hiring unlicensed nurses to mitigate the severe shortage is not the solution to the problem.

The government must regulate and raise the monthly pay of nurses in private hospitals, clinics, and other centers to stop them from leaving the country.

If given a chance and with better pay, nurses will prefer to work in the country, where they are close to their families, rather than work in a foreign hospital where, sometimes, there are language barriers.

It is grossly unfair for nurses who studied hard to pass the clinical licensure examination if Herbosa’s plan to hire those who failed pushed through.

There are some risks and dangers to hiring unlicensed nurses because they do not have the required skill set to perform tasks assigned to health workers.

Herbosa might only be creating another problem and worsen the country’s health care situation.

Herbosa should listen to the wisdom of some lawmakers who opposed plans to hire flunkers in the nursing board exams.

Herbosa, instead, should focus on plans and measures on how the government will implement the universal health care system more efficiently and effectively.

Herbosa should avoid short-cuts and stopgap measures to address the problem of nurse shortage.