Male nurses in demand as caregivers for elderly

Updated: 2013-12-22 23:56

By Yang Yao (China Daily)

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Male nurses in demand as caregivers for elderly

A male nurse gives a pedicure to an elderly woman at a nursing home in Taixing, Jiangsu province, in 2012. He had been working in the nursing home for five years. Many patients' families prefer male caregivers, but turnover is high because of the low pay. LUO ZHONGMING / FOR CHINA DAILY

Care services for the elderly are suffering a severe shortage of male nurses, industry insiders revealed.

Official data shows there are 330,786 caregivers at care homes nationwide, yet less than 15 percent are men.

"There's a great imbalance," said Yang Genlai, deputy director of elderly care at the Ministry of Civil Affairs' Vocational Skills Identification Guidance Center.

"Not to discriminate against women, but male caregivers have an advantage in terms of physical strength," he said. "Men are preferred by elderly people with disabilities, as they can carry them if needed."

Zhang Ying, a manager at Pinetree Senior Care Services in Beijing, said her nursing staff is 18 percent men, higher than average.

She said families often ask for male caregivers, but her center has difficulty recruiting male nurses.

According to Yang, this problem is partially caused by the general belief that women are better suited to nursing, although he noted attitudes are changing as people realize the importance of male nurses.

"A bigger reason (for the low numbers of male nurses) is the poor salaries," he said.

Zhao Xinmin works at a community care center in Beijing's Shijingshan district. He said he is proud to be a male nurse, as he feels it is a calling to take care of elderly people, just like taking care of his own parents.

"But the income is too low, and I'm thinking of changing to a commercial care home to make a better living," the 28-year-old said.

The government runs most elderly care homes, but private facilities pay slightly higher salaries.

The average salary for elderly caregivers is 1,500 yuan ($245) a month, just over the minimum wage, according to Yang. He said the turnover is as high as 70 to 80 percent.

"The labor and the skills required for this job simply don't match the pay," said Chu Ying at Tsinghua University's NGO Research Center. "This makes the situation harder for men, who are traditionally seen as the family breadwinner."

Chu said it takes at least five years to train a qualified nurse and apart from medicine, nurses need to have a knowledge of psychology.

"Someone with those skills and knowledge will find it hard to accept low wages," he said. "The government should increase their pay, as they are in great demand yet receive so little."

A deeper issue, however, is the lack of market structure for the sector.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs estimates the "gray population" will rise to more than 300 million by the end of 2025, which will lead to increasing demand.