Nursing professionals are at the front lines of service provision and play an important role in care focused on people and communities. In many countries, they act as leaders or key members of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary health teams. They provide a wide range of services at all levels of the health care system. However, there is a shortage of nursing professionals in the Region of the Americas; this shortage is primarily attributable to the emigration of professionals to other regions, different levels of economic development in the countries, precarious employment conditions, human resource policies for health workers including nurses, and lack of professional regulation.

Key facts

The State of the World’s Nursing Report 2020: Investing in Education, Employment and Leadership, published by the World Health Organization (WHO), estimates that there are 28 million nursing professionals in the world, a number that represents more than half of all health professionals. The report also notes that there is a global shortage of 5.9 million nursing professionals, mainly in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as in some Latin American countries. To reduce the global shortage of these professionals, it is necessary to increase national investment, increase the number of graduates in nursing, improve employment options, and retain professionals in the health system. The report also concludes that investing in nursing and midwifery professionals will not only enable improvements in the health field, but will also contribute to improving the quality of education, promoting gender equality, and ensuring decent work and economic growth. All these achievements are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Infographic available in English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Fact sheet

Nursing encompasses autonomous and collaborative care of individuals of all ages, families, groups, and communities, sick or well and in all settings. It includes the promotion of health, the prevention of illness, and the care of ill, disabled and dying people.

Nurses are in the line of action in providing services and play an important role in patient-centered care. In many countries, they are leaders or key players in the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary health teams. They provide a wide range of health services at all levels of the health system.

For countries to achieve the goal of Universal Access to Health and Universal Health Coverage, also named Universal Health, the quality, quantity, and relevance of the nursing workforce must be guaranteed.

What PAHO does

Strategy on Human Resources for Universal Access to Health and Universal Health Coverage

The 29th Pan American Sanitary Conference (Washington, D.C., 25 to 29 September 2017) approved the Strategy on Human Resources for Universal Access to Health and Universal Health Coverage. The Strategy has three lines of action:

  • Strengthen and consolidate governance and leadership in human resources for health
  • Develop conditions and capacities in human resources for health to expand access to health and health coverage, with equity and quality
  • Partner with the education sector to respond to the needs of health systems in transformation toward universal access to health and universal health coverage

Strategic Directions for Nursing in the Region of the Americas

Provides strategic guidance for the advancement and strengthening of nursing in health systems and services, along the following lines of action:

  • Strengthening and consolidating leadership and strategic management of nursing in the context of health systems and in policy-making and monitoring.
  • Addressing the working conditions and capacities of nurses to expand access and coverage with equity and quality, in order to promote a people-, family-, and community-centered model of care and strengthen both the primary level of care and integrated health services networks.
  • Improving the quality of nursing education to respond to the needs of health systems focused on universal access to health, universal health coverage, and the SDGs.