Aim. Indonesia, with its population of over 220 million, has health problems similar to those of other developing countries. In an attempt to provide nurses throughout the world with knowledge about Indonesia, we describe the country, its health system, and problems encountered by nurses and other health professionals.
Method. We explain the way the health system works within Indonesian culture, discuss the effects of the international nursing shortage and outline the role of aid agencies. The ethical dilemmas faced by health professionals who care for patients within a poorly resourced system are examined. While the information pertains to the whole country, we focus on the main island of Java, as that is where we have worked and resided.
Findings. Nursing education is primarily conducted at senior high school, while medical education is similar to the university education offered in many countries, and allied health professionals are educated to varying standards. Indonesian health officials recognize that the low standard of nursing education contributes to poor health statistics, and they are working hard to improve this. There has been strong support from the government for the implementation of university education for nurses, and for courses within academies that bridge the gap between current standards and the levels of education required for the delivery of optimum health care.
Discussion. We both are nurses. One of us is an Indonesian and the other has worked for many years in Indonesia and coordinated a programme that organized exchanges of health professionals working in large tertiary referral hospitals and health departments in Indonesia and Australia. The information presented here is the result of many collaborative projects and gives information not available in published works.