Mexican nurse Nayeli Bautista Hernández, 24, from Oaxaca, ventured across the “charco” three years ago. She initially cared for elderly people in a nursing home 30 kilometers north of Munich, and now she is a nurse in complicated operations at a hospital in the Bavarian capital.
She confirms what many foreigners think: “Germany urgently needs a lot of personnel in the health sector. I was very well prepared by training in my country. But the most difficult thing here is the language.”
Competition for nurses getting tougher
In Germany there is a lack of 200,000 auxiliaries and nurses and, according to calculations by the German Institute of Economics in Cologne, that figure will rise to half a million in the coming years. In the country they hope to be able to count on nurses from Vietnam, the Balkans or Latin America to solve the problem.
Meanwhile, German nursing homes and clinics are becoming more creative in attracting nursing staff from abroad. In 2019, the Mexican nurse obtained a free German course, money for bureaucratic matters and 300 euros for five months. In 2022, candidates are offered a flight home per year, a bicycle, and even a laptop. The competition for nurses is fierce. A nursing job is vacant, on average, about 240 days.
Strategies to attract staff, but not to keep them
Borja López de Castro founded “Nurses Germany” ten years ago. The employer offers nursing staff to university clinics in Freiburg, Cologne or Aachen. Every day he receives up to 20 job applications from Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Venezuela.
According to López de Castro, candidates have to know how to speak German: language level B2 is mandatory. Those who do, get better conditions than in their home country, financial stability, and often indefinite employment. But the path to achieving this is full of challenges and frustrations: “Many come to Germany with 15 years of professional experience in an intensive care unit, but they can’t apply their experience until they have mastered the language.”
Borja López de Castro: “Before we acted as intermediaries with personnel from Spain and Italy, and now, from Latin America.”
Germany, according to the employer, has managed to attract staff for patient care, but does not have a plan for workers to integrate and stay in the country. The businessman writes, calls by phone and is interested in the professionals with whom he himself mediated.
“It is one thing to have staff for integration, but another thing is a concept of integration that is put into practice. Many times there is no follow-up of the nursing staff. The main problem is the lack of information and transparency about working conditions” , criticism.
Language, bureaucracy, obstacles
All this is nothing new for Christine Vogler, who cared for patients for 33 years and was the director of two centers in the health sector. For a year now she has had a truly herculean task: she is president of the German Nursing Council.
Vogler is not beating around the bush: “Germany is not an attractive place for nursing staff. And word is spreading outside Germany about this. We have a complicated language, poor working conditions, and we have the largest number of hospital beds, but worst staffing,” referring to how many nurses are available to care for a given number of patients.
Vogler also says that she met many nursing students who returned to their country of origin, after four or five years of work, because in Germany geriatric care is paid less than nursing, or because the German bureaucracy is very slow.
According to the expert, “the possibility of recruiting staff from abroad is not a sustainable concept in nursing. We must always be aware that, with 100 percent effort, perhaps we have between 20 and 25 percent of success. In addition, it is becoming more and more difficult to find tailor-made personnel, because more and more countries are also experiencing the problem of nursing shortages.”