September 01, 2006

Uniform cheats

South China Morning Post

I'M thinking of switching careers - shifting to a job that will take me abroad and have employers crawling all over each other to bid for my services. Yes, I realise it might seem a bit late in the day to consider becoming a registered nurse, but only one thing worries me: what sort of uniform would I have to wear?

As for the rest of it, though, I'm very confident. That's because, as the latest scandal here shows, it's easy to pass the qualifying exams. All you need are perseverance, the proper attitude - and someone who'll hand you the questions before the test.

Why would anybody want to cheat in a nursing examination? That's easy: becoming a registered nurse is a guaranteed ticket to working overseas. The Philippines is among the world's biggest suppliers of nurses. Hospitals in many countries - mainly the United States - can't get enough of our nurses, and are snapping them up frantically. But there simply aren't enough to go around, which means the ones working in hospitals here are disappearing at an alarming rate.

I can imagine the scene in a Manila operating room. Surgeon: "Scalpel ... Nurse! I said give me the scalpel." Orderly: "She just left for the US."

So high is the demand that everybody is trying to get in on the act. Many doctors have started retraining as nurses. One computer institute opened a school of nursing, which has me wondering what kind of graduates it will turn out. If they become rattled, will they try to reboot their patients?

Now the whole enterprise is threatened by the revelation that, when 42,000 would-be nurses took the board exam in June, hundreds had been prepped with leaked copies of at least 500 of the questions.

There are accusations that the president of the Philippine Nurses Association (who has since resigned) leaked the questions to students he had coached. If that is true, it's an example of care and concern which his charges should never forget when they handle their patients. That is assuming they can tell one end of a patient from the other.

Although President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's spokesman has dismissed it as an "isolated incident", the scandal could scuttle a plan for the US National Council of State Boards of Nursing to hold licensing exams here.The spokesman probably knows that the head of the body giving the tests is the president's personal dentist.

Anyway, maybe the president (accused of cheating in the 2004 elections) can form a commission of lawyers (dogged by bar examination cheating in 2003) and doctors (still recovering from a medical board cheating scandal last decade) to investigate the case.

They could begin their work with a prayer: everybody should get down on their knees and thank the heavens that the Philippines doesn't certify nuclear power plant engineers.

(Click here for the South China Morning Post.)

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