Amid an acute labor shortage, well-trained nurses from several Asian countries are bringing favorable changes to hospitals here.

“They gave us the power to tackle our sense of stagnation,” Sayaka Fujita, a 41-year-old nurse at Sodegaura Satsukidai Hospital in Sodegaura, Chiba Prefecture, said of the Vietnamese nurses she works with.

Since 1994, the hospital has trained 10 Vietnamese nurses as part of a joint program with other hospitals. In addition to helping the hospital address its labor shortage, they had other favorable effects on its operations.

The Vietnamese, including many who studied in Vietnam to become doctors, proved highly competent.

They studied at a nursing school in Japan for three to four years and passed the national qualification exams after taking them under the exact same conditions as their Japanese counterparts.

They also acquired high-level Japanese skills, with some even teaching kanji to Japanese.

The Vietnamese nurses also worked energetically in various sections, including the emergency ward, but took long leaves of absence for trips back to Vietnam.

This had a positive effect on their Japanese counterparts by making them less hesitant to go on vacation, and the hospital subsequently saw its turnover rate decline.

The Vietnamese nurses helped create “an atmosphere that enables us to take days off at ease,” Fujita said.

“We now have a virtuous cycle of Japanese and foreign workers helping each other to grow,” said Takahiro Yada, head of the hospital’s planning department.

Kashiwado Hospital, also in Chiba, has two Vietnamese nurses. Dinit Thi Chuc has been working there for 11 years, while her compatriot is a nine-year veteran who recently went on maternity leave. Their long stints at the company were made possible by its generous support for child-rearing nurses, according to Chuc, 34, who received permanent resident status three years ago and lives in Japan with her husband and two children. Chuc took maternity leave to look after them.

The two Vietnamese are “indispensable for us,” chief nurse Kinuko Ogino said. “We will continue efforts to create work environments friendly to important staff members.”

Satsukidai and Kashiwado are pioneers in Japan’s hospital trainee program. Japan is short on nurses and care workers because many shun the tough working environment or get sidelined by marriage or childbirth, even as demand for their skills continues to climb along with the rapidly graying population.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimates that 2 million nurses will be needed for hospitals, nursing care facilities or home care services by 2025, up 500,000 from now.

Against this backdrop, Japan began accepting aspiring nurses and caregivers from Indonesia for training in 2008 under a bilateral free trade agreement. This later spread to the Philippines and Vietnam under similar agreements.

About 840 trainees have been recruited from the three countries so far and only 128 have passed the national qualification exams, while more than 1,500 aspiring caregivers have arrived for training.

In August, Satsukidai accepted two Vietnamese men as trainee nurses through a program under the Japan-Vietnam agreement. Both are studying hard to pass the national exam in February.

“I want to work in Japan and learn nursing skills,” trainee Nguyen Son Ha, 27, said in halting Japanese. Ha formally studied Japanese for a year in Vietnam before coming to Japan.

Taking on foreign nurses places a burden on hospitals because they have to teach them Japanese almost from scratch, said Yada of the hospital’s planning department. The hospital decided to accept the Vietnamese because they have a good track record.

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