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Nursing exam link a symptom, and may bring cure

Nursing exam link a symptom, and may bring cure
Last updated 02:10am (Mla time) 08/23/2006

In a country where cheating with impunity has become the norm rather than the exception and where remittances from "exported" skilled professionals literally keep the economy afloat, the leaks that marred the last nursing board exam and the desperate efforts to preserve the examination's credibility in the aftermath, were bound to happen. It was only a matter of time.

This unfortunate scandal can yet, however, prove to be one of the greatest blessings for this nation, because it might finally drive home the point that there can be no true progress unless we have our hearts in the right place. Sooner or later, the values we as a people hold dear, or more aptly their absence, will catch up with us.

Never before had there been such a heated debate on whether examinees of a professional board should retake an examination tainted by the specter of cheating. There were questions of cheating in other professional exams in the past, but the reactions were nowhere close to those we see to the questions on the recent nursing exams. Then again, never in our past history had we depended so much on the dollars earned by nurses abroad, never before was nursing a "ticket out" of this benighted country the goal of so many, and never were we labeled as we are labeled now, as a nation of cheaters.

No doubt, it is unfair to lump the entire populace under this label. Unfortunately, our collective behavior -- the apparent apathy of the majority amid the overwhelming proof of massive election fraud in 2004, the indifference of most to the continuing crimes, some so heinous and unprecedented, and lawless acts meant to cover up and keep the guilty in power -- cannot but bolster this stigma.

It doesn't matter that this indifference is the apathy of the walking wounded, born of cynicism brought about by the pain from too many betrayals by those mandated to lead our nation. The end result is the same: a people who have lost the capacity for outrage.

But while few seemed to react strongly towards massive election cheating, with many in fact seeing those who have kept the issue alive as pathetic dreamers or political “destabilizers,” the panic button has been pressed for the "nursing exam leak” issue. One obvious reason is that the loss of credibility in our nursing exams could damage our reputation as a source of qualified nurses for the world and directly lead to loss of dollar remittances. But is this all there is to it? I think not.

That there was a leak in the Board of Nursing exams is nothing more than a symptom of our nation's deep cancers. No government agency is spared.

However, the response of the academe, the Board of Nursing, the hospitals, the physicians and the other professionals could form part of the cure. In fact, indications are that there is a collective effort of many quarters to do the right thing and not just the expedient thing. The stakeholders are not likely to say, "Let’s forget the whole thing and move on."

The resignation of the president and the vice president of the Philippine Nursing Association would be one step in the right direction.

The report that some prestigious hospitals, such as St. Luke's Medical Center, would not accept Nursing graduates from 2006 unless steps were taken to ensure that they indeed are worthy of the title of Registered Nurse, and the battle being waged by deans of prestigious nursing schools to stop the Professional Regulation Commission from administering the professional oath to "successful examinees" until the issue is resolved, all give us hope that there are still many among us who refuse to allow precious institutions to go the way of almost all government institutions.

I don't think it is an accident that this resolve has come from those involved in caring for our people's health. It reflects a sentiment now sweeping across the country among health professionals. It has little to do with dollar remittances.

Call it a counterculture of sorts, or simply a natural reaction to anything in excess. But the fact is that all over the country, doctors, nurses and other health professionals are starting to heed the call to be more than just healers. There is a growing realization that we must use our professions to help begin a revolution of heart from the bottom up. It might be the only way to eventually force genuine change at the top.

Medical professionals know people in the most personal way. We are privileged to see individuals inside out; both literally and figuratively. We know just how much our people are hurting from living in a society that encourages cynicism and mocks idealism, and rewards thievery and punishes honesty.

Hence this battle to preserve the integrity and credibility of the nursing board exam is much more than that. It goes beyond making sure that the nurses who assist us in the operating room or administer medicines to our patients don't end up doing harm, although this is a big part of the issue. It goes beyond our critical dependence on dollars sent home by nurses "exported" to the United States and England.

The battle is but a part of a bigger struggle to restore decency, integrity, and honor in our national life.

My heart goes out to the successful examinees that did not cheat; I still remember the hardships I went through for my medical board exam. But perhaps they are being called to participate in something beyond themselves. I don't suggest that they be made to retake the entire exam, only the exams in the subjects on which the leaks were discovered.

The only way cheating can be avoided in the future would be if those investigating the leak could pinpoint those who benefited from them and have only these persons retake the subjects. Needless to say, the perpetrators must be punished.

It was Gandhi who said that "our values become our destiny." But in a nation where the highest leadership forces us to abandon the values that we hold dear in favor of political expediency, to turn a blind eye to high crimes and injustice and instead applaud the vile and wily, all for the sake of “progress,” what sort of destiny might lay in store?

The nursing exam scandal is an opportunity to rediscover and reclaim the values that we have been forced to deny and even discard, for survival's sake. Let's not waste it.



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