Labor schemes drawing nurses from across the Pacific to lower-qualified aged care jobs in Australia, New Zealand

An exodus of over-qualified Pacific Island nurses who are taking up aged care jobs in countries such as Australia has experts concerned the “brain drain” is leaving critical gaps in the region’s healthcare systems.

Health systems worldwide are struggling with chronic understaffing — exacerbated by the pandemic — and many countries are looking abroad to solve the shortages.

In April, the Australian government increased the number of workers coming to Australia through the Pacific Australia Labor Mobility (PALM) scheme to work in hospitality, tourism, and aged care in a bid to address critical skills shortages here.

Fiji Nursing Association president Dr Alisi Vudiniabola said many of the country’s “very experienced and well qualified” nurses had since left to work in jobs they were over-qualified for, like aged care.

“Some of them are midwives, some advanced clinical nurses, some are managers in primary healthcare centers,” she said.

“It’s a big loss for Fiji when we lose such qualified nurses.”

A Fijian woman wearing a traditional necklace sitting in a room.
Dr Alisi Vudiniabola hopes workers will be offered pathways into nursing jobs. (Facebook: Fijian Government)

There is no data available on the total number of Fijian nurses now working overseas, but Dr. Vudiniabola estimates about half have left for Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and the United States during the past six months.

Despite mounting pressure on the health system, she said the Fiji government was keeping tight-lipped about the figures.

“They just keep all the information to themselves; we are not seeing the numbers that are leaving, but we know that nurses are leaving almost every day,” she said.

The Fijian government, which is in the midst of an election campaign, has been approached for comment.

Dr. Vudiniabola said she hoped that at least Pacific nurses would have opportunities to increase their skills.

“I’m just hoping that … Australia looks at pathways for professional development, and does not just leave them being an aged care worker.”


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