Caught in the nursing boom and bust

October 4, 2010 at 1:36 pm Leave a comment

N.B. – This article was first published on UPIU, September 20, 1010. This article was subjected to a class workshop for my Journalism 117 (Online Journalism). Comments for revision on this article includes improvement as to the use of modifiers, to avoid putting so many numbers in one paragraph, changing the first name to last names (to signify professionality) ,and to tighten some sentences.

***

By Paul Belisario

“Maybe we were promising to professionally do a job we might not actually fulfill.”

This seems to be the sentiments of Jona and Yna, two of the thousands who took their Oath of Professional as nurses on September 20, 2010 at the SMX Convention Center, Pasay City. Together with more than 8,000 others all in white, the start of their life as professional nurses also marks the beginning of a rather blurry beginning in pursuing the career they have chosen.

After completing their four-year degree in nursing last March at the College of Nursing from Our Lady of Fatima University (OLFU) in Valenzuela, Jona Guimbangunan and Yna Reyes were just two of the 37, 679 other passers who are now in the limbo of uncertainty. Both took the professional licensure exam last July this year, and were able to get pass out of the 91, 008 who took it. And now, they are an automatic addition to the ballooning unemployed, and underemployed, nurses.

Both felt really happy that they have finally took the oath. Reyes on the other hand felt different.

“Thinking about other students, knowing all of us paid (for the high expenses of our education) yet not everybody passed, I was just thankful that I was able take a step forward”, Reyes said half-heartedly.

“But I felt more uplifted after passing the qualifying exam at our school and after graduation, that was when I felt more relieved”, Guimbangunan added.

According to them, OLFU holds an exam on their last semester before graduating where only those who pass are allowed to take the biannual licensure exam. About 4,000 graduated from their 2010 batch but only 2,500 fresh graduates were able to take the exam. Out of this, OLFU garnered a passing rate of 47 percent for first time takers.

Certain needs

The Professional Regulatory Commission says that the country is producing nurses far greater than it actually needs. Report shows that before the July exam, about 187,000 nurses are currently unemployed yet only 7,000 nursing positions are available in both public and private hospitals.

However, it is the opposite that Reyes believes.

“Sometimes patient would complain, when they came to the hospital they were sick but because of the long wait they would eventually feel better”, she said after experiencing actual work in an extremely undermanned hospital as student nurse.

Guimbangunan agrees. “Hospitals usually take advantage of student nurses, making them regular nurse work to compensate to their shortcomings”, she said.

Ironically, PRC admits in a report that the nurse to patient ratio in reality is 1:50, a widened margin from the ideal 1:5 ratio.

“During thypoons when classes are suspended and student nurses are not on duty, I doubt if nurses handle the job with the volume of patients”, Reyes recalls.

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Jona Guimbangunan and Rowena Reyes are among the 37,679 nurse's who passed the 2010 professional board exam and took oath on Sept. 20 at Pasay City, Philippines. (Yna Reyes)

Uncertain opportunity

Realizing the country’s medical need for nurses and health workers, both do not put the opportunity of working in a local hospital number one on their priority list.

“My classmate in college was able to work as a nurse in Dubai after passing the licensure exam even without any work experience. Jona and I are eyeing for the same opportunity”, Reyes considering the Middle East as the new green pasture for nurses replacing the US and Europe.

With the long lines of surplus nurses, local hospitals usually offer lower salary compared abroad. Hospitals also utilize student nurses to do the regular nurse’s job.

Dr. Gene Nisperos of Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) said in an interview that volunteer nurses, who actually pay just to gain clinical experience (that will give them a more edgy resumé), are also used by hospitals rather than giving tenure positions.

Similarly, Guimbangunan thinks that being a nurse in the Philippines is rather gambling to a surely loosing game. In addition, the tight competition has brought many requirements such as trainings, seminars, and a master’s degree – that is, shelling out more money.

“Our tuition for semester averages to more or less 35, 000 pesos. We want to give back to what our parents have outsourced to provide our schooling”, she said.

Reports estimate that a four year nursing tuition fee alone costs around 400, 000 pesos, exclusive of books, medical tools and instruments, and personal expenses. This sum may go higher depending on the school.

“Prices of commodities are high nowadays. The current meager salary of local nurses will never make ends meet”, Reyes reasoned out.

Hopes and regrets

The nursing boom seems to bust now.

Guimbangunan recalls that OLFU has about 80 class sections (each section comprised of 40-50 nursing students) during their time. Now, it has declined to less than 20.

Several nursing schools that have sprouted during the nursing hype in 2006 have been shut close due to low or zero passing rate in the past licensure exams. The Philippine Nurses Association thinks that new nurses lack skills and competency to be sent abroad. Mostly, now other countries also have started exporting their health service manpower.

Now that the call center industry, which hires even high school and vocational-course graduate and offers generous salaries, takes the local spotlight while nursing is dimmed off, Yna and Jona can not help but somehow regret being caught in the sinking industry.

Reyes recalls a father saying to her daughter during the oath taking ceremony, “We could have opted to save money and not study in college if we knew that call centers would come.” And Reyes and Guimbangunan seems to consider the alternative if the search for a nursing position becomes too elusive.

HEAD believes that providing nurses with career options within the government health care system making it a viable career for them could make working overseas a choice rather than a necessity due to poor compensation.

“We believe that our local nurses have the competence. We have been through overpopulated hospitals with poor or lacking equipments yet we delivered”, Reyes reasoned out.

Asked what can make nurses fulfill their professional duty for their people and their contry above else, both laments, “Considering the money we used to finish school, it is still the salary, a just compensation, that can make nurses stay and work here.”

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