Million rand nurses flee SA

Skilled South African nurses can earn between R1m and R1.4m a year in Canada, while an entry-level GP can pocket between R5 million and R8 million a year. South Africans are favoured targets for emigration because of their experience and language skills. | Dumisani Dube

Skilled South African nurses can earn between R1m and R1.4m a year in Canada, while an entry-level GP can pocket between R5 million and R8 million a year. South Africans are favoured targets for emigration because of their experience and language skills. | Dumisani Dube

Published Jul 7, 2024


Durban — Canada is luring South Africa’s medical staff to its shores with the promise of job security and salaries amounting to millions of rand.

Nurses, GPs, chiropractors and other medical professionals are highly sought after because of their experience and their English language skills.

Canadian immigration expert Nicholas Avramis said there were about 45 000 South Africans in Canada and nearly 3 500 of them were medical professionals.

“Your average nurse in Canada is earning R80 000 to R100 000; that’s like R1 million to R1.4m gross salary. Nurses are unionised in each province so they get all their dental covered, they get their healthcare covered, and they get their pharmacy covered, and they’re going to have a pension as long as they work the required years for them and their families. I don’t think a nurse is making R1m in South Africa.”

Avramis said entry-level general practitioners could pocket between R5m and R8m a year.

Based in Johannesburg, Avramis has been recruiting locals through his company, Beaver Immigration, for 10 years.

He said apart from medical skills, South African IT workers were also highly sought after, as well as people skilled in science, technology, engineering and maths.

“The quota for permanent residency (in Canada) this year is 450 000. In 2025, it’s 500 000 and in 2026, it’s 550 000. These (numbers) are a combination of people inside or still outside the country,” he said.

Avramis said South Africans were favoured over staff from other countries like India because of their English language skills, similar outlook on life and their adaptability.

The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) confirmed that apart from Canada, other developed countries like the UK, US, Saudi Arabia, Australia, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates were eagerly recruiting South African nurses.

Denosa spokesperson Sibongiseni Delihlazo warned that South Africa already had a severe shortage of nurses who had to deal with long hours, low pay, burnout, anxiety, depression and inadequate support.

“The nursing shortage is a global phenomenon and we are starting to see countries from the developed world flocking to countries like ours because for them it is a cheaper way of getting this workforce by not producing it themselves. It’s a disaster because in South Africa, we are already producing low numbers of nurses yet even those low numbers don’t get absorbed by the country in the public sector. In the next 14 years almost half the nursing population in this country will have retired.”

He said there were 270 000 nurses on the South African Nursing Council’s register but those included nurses in the public and private sectors, retired or in management as well as those who had left the country.

Delihlazo said a study by the World Health Organization and the International Council of Nurses in 2020 showed a huge shortage, which would reach “catastrophic levels globally” by 2030.

Dr Cedric Sihlangu, general secretary of the South African Medical Association Trade Union, warned that the emigration of doctors had a “profound negative impact” on the country’s health system.

He said a large-scale exodus exacerbated the existing shortage of medical professionals, leading to increased workloads for the remaining doctors, as well as longer waiting times for patients, and a potential decline in the quality of primary healthcare.

Sihlangu said rural and under-served areas were particularly hard hit, as they already had limited healthcare resources.

He said there were several factors which encouraged doctors to emigrate, including unemployment, higher salaries, better benefits and improved working conditions. Sihlangu said many doctors also felt their voices were not heard because the issues affecting them were not given adequate attention.

“For years we have been experiencing challenges with the absorption of medical interns which had been ongoing for a number of years and still not being given adequate attention by the relevant officials.

“The other contributing factor is the issue of employee wellness. Most doctors are subjected to work in extremely ill-resourced healthcare facilities, which can be quite daunting for them, but we see minimal intervention from the government to address this issue. Some doctors end up experiencing mental health issues because of this challenge.

“The safety of healthcare workers has also become a challenge that may influence doctors to seek employment abroad, with a rising number of cases of patients assaulting and killing healthcare workers.”

Sihlangu said it was crucial to retain skilled medical professionals for the sustainability and efficacy of South Africa’s health system.

“Most South African doctors studied medicine because they want to serve the communities they come from. It is without doubt that if they feel the government is paying attention to the issues they raise, they will stay to serve the same communities that motivated them to study medicine,” he said.

The national Department of Health said doctors left the country for a number of reasons: decreasing salaries, cost-cutting measures, the possibility of mandatory service in understaffed rural areas, as well as rising crime rates.

It said the possibility of better schooling and having family abroad also contributed to emigration.

Spokesperson Foster Mohale said the brain drain of medical doctors to Canada and other countries reduced South Africa’s capacity to provide healthcare services, particularly in specialised areas. He said emigration exacerbated the unequal distribution of healthcare professionals, with urban areas likely to be more affected.

“Training a doctor requires significant investment; when they emigrate, South Africa loses this investment, and the healthcare system faces added costs in recruiting and training replacements.”

According to Mohale, the remaining healthcare professionals would have increased workloads and stress.

He said it would also hinder South Africa’s progress towards achieving universal health coverage and meeting health-related sustainable development goals.

Independent on Saturday