Hitherto a voluntary service provided by women of the upper classes, nursing has morphed into a full-fledged healthcare professional vocation – Odeal D’Souza
Florence Nightingale aka the Lady with the Lamp (1820-1910), is widely remembered for tending to wounded soldiers during the Crimean War (1850-56) and introducing nursing education. Since then, nursing — hitherto a voluntary service provided by women of the upper classes — has morphed into a full-fledged healthcare profession which helps individuals, families and communities to maintain or recover optimal health and quality of life.
Latter-day nurses are trained caregivers employed in government and private hospitals, the Red Cross Society, defence services, education institutions and home healthcare organisations. Apart from providing traditional hands-on patient care, contemporary nursing professionals discharge administration and practitioner roles including those which combine computer and health science (nursing informatics) to manage vast amounts of patient care data.
To qualify as a fully-fledged professional nurse in India, completion of a four-year bachelor’s in nursing (B.Sc) degree programme is mandatory. This can be followed up with diverse postgraduate specialisations. Other options include a two-year diploma programme in auxiliary nursing and midwifery (ANM) or a three-and-a-half-year diploma in general nursing and midwifery (GNM) after completing Plus Two (science including biology). After graduation, nursing graduates, ANMs and GNMs have to register themselves with the state nursing council to get a practitioner’s licence.
Among the country’s premier institutions offering study programmes in nursing are: All India Institute of Medical Sciences, St. Stephen’s Hospital and RAK College of Nursing, New Delhi; Armed Forces Medical College, Pune; Manipal College of Nursing; National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore; Father Muller College of Nursing, Mangalore; Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Nursing College and SNDT Faculty of Nursing, Mumbai; Apollo College of Nursing, Chennai; and Government College of Nursing, Kottayam.
Pay and progression
In India, the 29 states follow different pay scales for nurses in government hospitals, and salaries vary widely between government and private healthcare institutions. An entry level nursing graduate in a government hospital can expect Rs.12,000-20,000 per month. Graduate nurses in private hospitals with at least five years’ experience can expect Rs.30,000 per month, and postgrad specialist nurses Rs.35,000.
Nursing postgrads teaching in a nursing college can expect a starting salary of Rs.30,000 per month which could rise to Rs.72,000 with experience. In private hospitals, freshers can expect remuneration ranging from Rs.10,000-25,000 after completing a six month internship. Because of the shortage of nurses there is not much difference between the roles of ANMs, GNMs and graduate nurses except that the latter can work as nursing tutors in colleges. Their pay scales differ marginally.
“Only 2.4 million nurses (including auxiliary nurses and trained midwives) are currently active in the country — one of the lowest nurses-to-population ratios worldwide. Moreover, there’s a strong demand for Indian nurses in developed countries as they are well-trained, hard-working and fluent in English,” says Lt. Col. Binu Sharma, the Delhi-based senior vice president (nursing services) of Columbia Asia Hospitals Pvt. Ltd and a certified NABH (National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers) assessor and president of the Infusion Nursing Society, India.
Sharma was drawn to a career in the armed forces from her childhood. Following her dreams, she cleared the Armed Forces Services Board exam in 1977 and was admitted as a nursing officer cadet at INHS Asvini, Mumbai. Following two decades of serving in the armed forces where she acquired “deep knowledge, competencies and leadership skills” as a nursing officer, she opted for voluntary retirement. The same year she signed up with the Delhi-based Max Healthcare Pvt. Ltd as chief of nursing for five years and in 2007, joined Columbia Asia Hospitals, India as senior vice president nursing services.
Sharma believes that apart from acquiring college degrees and diplomas, it is essential to develop certain character traits for a satisfying career in holistic nursing. “Physical endurance, emotional stability, need to continuously upgrade knowledge and skills are essential attributes for success in nursing. Above all, patience and a good sense of humour are essential to help patients in distress combat illness, anxiety and stress,” she says.