To tackle shortage, Hawaii considers making it easier to hire foreign-trained nurses

The current shortage of nurses in Hawaii is projected to worsen, as our aging population grows.
Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 4:15 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 25, 2022 at 5:21 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - To address a worsening shortage of nurses in Hawaii, lawmakers are hoping to attract more health care workers who have been trained in foreign countries.

House Bill 1758 would allow the Board of Nursing to issue temporary work permits to nurses from a territory or foreign country while they wait for their state license.

A 2021 survey by the Hawaii State Center for Nursing found 14% of registered nurses, 16% of licensed practical nurses, and 5% of advanced practice registered nurses are foreign educated. The president of the Philippine Nurses Association of Hawaii says many foreign-trained nurses in the state come from the Philippines.

“It makes me think about my mom who’s an immigrant and she came here to the United States and she also had to pass the board, but she was just as qualified” said Cielito Matias-Schwartz, who followed in her mom’s footsteps and is a registered nurse at Queen’s Medical Center.

State Rep. Henry Aquino introduced the bill to expedite the onboarding process for experienced immigrant nurses, especially after the pandemic left many healthcare facilities short-staffed.

“Our statute only addresses nurses within the United States so this would expand that qualification, that pool,” Aquino said. “Currently only out-of-state nurses are able to come to Hawaii and able to get licensed through endorsement.”

The push comes as many nurses consider leaving their jobs after a difficult two years, potentially making the nursing shortage even worse.

State data shows about 5,000 nurses ― or 15% of the workforce ― left the field over the past two years. Nearly 22% of registered nurses plan to leave their jobs within three years.

The Board of Nursing says the measure will not undermine current requirements.

Applicants still have to pass a professional licensing exam, show proof of authorization to work in the United States and proof of graduation from a board-approved nursing program.

“These are people who are already trained, already licensed in other areas, and it’s just to kind of move things along a little quicker and so we’re all in favor of anything that can help with that,” said Daniel Ross, president of the state’s largest nurses union, the Hawaii Nurses Association.

While recruiting foreign nurses can help fill gaps in the workforce, Ross hopes employers will also increase wages to keep locals in the profession.

“They tend to work for a lower wage and that might be a concern for some local people here, because we already feel that with our cost of living, our wages are so low,” he said.

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