The health sector in Egypt suffers from a severe shortage of qualified nurses (nurses with at least two years of post high school nursing education) and a much less apparent perceived/real shortage of all-type of nurses. This paper examines the nurse labor market in Egypt for evidence of such shortages, and explores potential reasons behind them. The paper adopts a case study approach to provide an overall understanding of the demand for and supply of nurses in Egypt; it employs both qualitative and quantitative techniques. Focus groups and in-depth interviews were conducted with 19 nurses, in addition to secondary analysis of data from the World Health Organization - East Mediterranean Region, the High Council for University Students in Egypt, and the Ministry of Health and Population. I find that the main reason for the shortage of the stock of qualified nurses is, to a large extent, the restricted supply of nursing education, which is provided entirely by the public sector today. The overall perceived/real shortage of all-type nurses, on the other hand, does not seem to be related to a shortage of the stock of all nurses but rather nurse supply decisions at the current nurse wage levels and nurse working conditions in Egypt.
The Ministry of Health and Population’s current approach is to upgrade the quality of nursing education in Egypt to eliminate high school level nursing education in the future. This seems to be the right approach. However, as a result of lack of quantitative labor market data, it is not possible to predict the likely effect of such a policy on the shortage. Since a more educated nurse is more employable in the private sector and abroad, this might very well mean that more nurses will exit the public sector, leading to more severe shortages in the public sector. Therefore, such a policy should be accompanied by nurse retention strategies tailored to the nature of the supply nurses. Lack of data makes it difficult to generate the evidence necessary to guide such policies. Investing in data infrastructures is essential to support evidence-based health policy in Egypt. Finally, with Egypt’s high unemployment rate (particularly for female unemployment), it is possible to view the availability of foreign markets for Egyptian nurses as an opportunity instead of a threat if the right policies, aimed at protecting the local market for nurses and public investments in nurse education, are adopted.