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Crack down on nursing exam fraud, Arroyo told

Monday, August 28, 2006
Crack down on nursing exam fraud, Arroyo told

MANILA -- Nurses have become one of the Philippines' top exports, earning a global reputation as caregivers. But credentials for thousands of would-be nurses are under a cloud, because of alleged cheating in recent certification exams.

Rushing to protect the stature of Philippine nurses, the government has promised to punish those responsible. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, has called the leak of questions in at least two of five test subjects during the June 11-12 nursing board exams an "isolated incident."

"This should not be cause for any stigma on our nurses or other professionals who remain to be among the best in the world," Bunye said this week.

That's not very soothing for those affected by the scandal who had hoped to get jobs around the world from Europe, to the United States, to other parts of Asia.

Lilian Grace Yangot, a nursing graduate from Baguio City and one of the first to publicly expose the leaks, said her parents worry about her plans to work in New Zealand.

She told The Associated Press she feared that only arranging a "retake" of the exams would not redeem the reputation of the latest class of nurses and the country's nursing profession.

"But even if we have a retake, it's not a 100 percent assurance that all of us who passed will pass again," she said. "And if we do not retake, will hospitals accept us?"

Yangot said one of her classmates was turned down by a Philippine Government hospital where he offered to serve as a volunteer nurse without pay. He was told his nursing class "is not yet cleared" of the controversy, she said.

Josefina A. Tuazon, dean of the College of Nursing at the University of the Philippines, recently returned from a trip to the United States where there is "very strong apprehension about what image this will give to our country and the Filipino nurses."

She expects, however, that there will no immediate repercussions on the hiring policies of American hospitals.

"The need in the US is so great, the shortage is so great, they will still need to recruit us," she said. "But what we're trying to communicate to them ... is to be very selective in the kind of schools where you get your recruits from. You want to make sure that the recruits are qualified and top quality."

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration says 7,768 nurses went to work abroad in 2005, down from 12,822 in 2001. The top six countries that employ Filipino nurses are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, Taiwan, Ireland and the United States.

More than 17,000 of the over 42,000 people who took the June exams passed.

The Court of Appeals has ordered a 60-day suspension on their oath taking as new nurses pending a hearing on a petition questioning the validity of the exams.

Leonor Rosero, head of the Professional Regulation Commission, which administers board exams for nursing and 41 other professions, said an internal investigation confirmed all 500 questions on the subject of psychiatric nursing had been leaked; 100 of those were on the actual test. About 20 questions on surgical nursing also were leaked.

She said two members of the nursing board prepared the exam questions, but she did not accuse them of leaking the test questions, which were in handwritten and typed notes.

"We found out that these manuscripts belonged to the two board examiners. How it traveled from their possession ... we were not able to establish," she told the AP.

The National Bureau of Investigation and the Senate have launched separate investigations. No arrests have been made.

Rosero said the regulations commission will not order a re-examination, but the final decision will have to be made by the President's office, which oversees the agency.

The scandal could torpedo efforts by the Philippine government to convince the US National Council of State Boards of Nursing to hold its National Council Licensure Examinations in the country for Filipino nurses who want to work in America.

"One concern is examination security," said Rino Paez, senior emigrant services officer from the Council of Filipinos Overseas.

"If we cannot protect our own professional examination, how do we protect the examinations of a foreign entity?"

Cheryl Daytec, a sister-in-law and the lawyer of the recent graduate Lilian Yangot, castigated the regulation commission for initially denying there was a leak. She also demanded that Rosero resign.

"I think the impact is not only on the nursing profession but on all the professions in the Philippines and the entire Philippine society," Daytec said.

"I think it brings to the fore the fact that this nation is a nation of cheats."

She urged President Arroyo, whose office oversees the regulations commission, to take "decisive steps" to resolve the controversy.

"That's what the outside world is waiting for-an honest and sincere demonstration of the policy against fraud," she said. (AP)

(August 28, 2006 issue)

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