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Scandal Over Nurses' Exam Stirs Unease in Philippines

Scandal Over Nurses’ Exam Stirs Unease in Philippines

Published: August 21, 2006

MANILA, Aug. 20 — After disclosures that test questions for Philippine nursing board examinations in June were leaked to hundreds of applicants, officials and industry experts are warning that the country’s status as one of the world’s top producers of nurses could be threatened.

The country’s Professional Regulation Commission has confirmed that questions in the board exams taken by more than 42,000 nursing graduates in June had been provided in advance to hundreds of examinees. The initial accusations were made by students, who contended that the president of the Philippine Nurses Association had provided the exams to students who took his coaching classes.

The president, George Cordero, has denied the charges, but he has resigned.

Industry groups, meanwhile, are calling on the commission to compel the students to retake the exam to repair, according to one of the groups, the “tainted credibility of Filipino nurses here and abroad.” They also gone to court to stop the new nurses in Manila from taking their professional oath on Tuesday. The court ruled in their favor on Friday. Students in the provinces have already taken their oaths.

Those who passed the June exams say it would be unfair to force them to retake the exam or to delay their certification.

The Philippines is the top supplier of nurses to the United States, sending several thousands a year. Earlier this year, a change in American immigration law lifted the cap on the number of foreign nurses American hospitals and clinics can hire. The move created more opportunities for Filipino nurses, who are also in demand in Europe, Japan and other more affluent Asian countries.

The scandal, officials said, could greatly damage this status of Filipino nurses abroad. Already, Philippine officials said, American recruiters are turning away nurses who took the fraudulent board exams, while those who remain in the Philippines are having difficulty finding jobs. Questions also have been raised about the integrity of previous nursing board exams.

The Philippine Senate has started investigating the scandal. “American hospitals, Japanese hospitals, European hospitals are watching us,” Richard Gordon, a senator, said during a Senate hearing last week. Health experts at the hearing said they feared a moratorium by other countries on hiring Filipino nurses.

Although officials contend that the quality of Filipino nurses hired in other countries would not be affected in the long run because the new nurses generally must pass tests in destination countries, the credibility problem could persist.

“The credibility of the Filipino nurses has been tainted,” said Rosalinda D. Baldoz, the administrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, in an interview with the Middle Eastern newspaper Gulf News.

The Philippine economy is heavily dependent on the remittances sent home by millions of its overseas workers.

While Filipino nurses have always enjoyed some kind of a favored status in the United States, the emergence of other countries that supply nurses, like India, has been a concern in the Philippines of late. This scandal, officials said, will certainly add to the problem.

Mr. Cordero, who led the nurse’s association, was accused during the Senate hearing of leaking the exam in order to favor students who took courses at a nursing review center that he owns, thus improving their chances of being recruited abroad.

He has also been accused of bribing examiners so that he could get advance copies of the test questions, and of paying for a trip to Switzerland for some members of the Board of Nursing, which administers the exams.

Mr. Cordero has denied the allegations and has threatened to sue his detractors for libel. He declined requests for an interview.

Dr. Kenneth G. Ronquillo, chief of human resources at the Philippine Department of Health, said the government and the medical profession “should do its best to erase all doubt about the integrity of the nursing board exams.”

Senator Gordon criticized what he called “a culture of cheating” in the Philippines.

“We have a tendency to want to beat the system, in the elections, in sports accreditations, and even in civil service exams,” he said, referring to other scandals here, among them the accusations that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo cheated in the 2004 elections, though that has never been resolved.

FROM: The New York Times

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