Rural or urban: the role of nurses' dedication towards patients in their choice of job

New evidence shows that the more dedicated nurses are, as measured by their generosity towards patients in an economic behavioural experiment, the more likely they are to choose a rural job.

, 2014
South Africa

An important first step in addressing human resource shortages in health systems is knowing what factors influence health workers’ job and location choices, as this information can lead to more effective human resource planning and management.

RESYST researchers have been seeking to address this issue in South Africa where there remains a severe and persistent shortage of qualified nurses in rural areas, despite on-going efforts to attract health workers.

Evidence suggests that nurses who are exposed to rural life, either through training or as part of their upbringing, are more likely to work in rural posts.

However, new research has found that decisions about job location are also affected by a characteristic intrinsic to each individual – the dedication of nurses towards their patients. The more dedicated nurses are, as measured by their generosity towards patients in an economic behavioural experiment, the more likely they are to choose a rural job.

To ensure that a higher proportion of nurses choose rural posts, the recruitment processes of nursing students could try and ascertain the extent to which potential candidates show signs of dedication towards patients. Also, nurses’ curricula and experience during their studies could be adapted to cultivate positive attitudes towards patients. 

Policy brief | Health workforce