Saturday, January 29, 2011

Unnursed dream

Unnursed dream 

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:39:00 01/15/2011

FOR DECADES, it signified a new version of the Filipino dream. It was not becoming a lawyer or a doctor that parents wished for their children: it was becoming a nurse. And thus nursing became the most popular course in colleges, with one nursing school after another sprouting to meet the boom. Perhaps because of our natural gift for hospitality and our affection for the young and the elderly, Filipinos simply made for excellent nurses.

Generations of Filipinos now have grown up either aspiring to become nurses or subsidized by nurses most likely working abroad. The idea of finding gainful employment in other countries—particularly in wealthy and yet underserved countries like the United States, Canada and Japan—was a potent carrot for these dreamers.

But there is a dark side to their bright ambition. As more and more Filipinos sought to become nurses, substandard nursing schools became more common. Then the cheating and leaks in board exams. There was talk of payoffs and schools being involved. Nursing schools came under more and more critical scrutiny, but nursing students kept coming—more fresh meat for the bedside grinder.

The last few years have seen even worse: the exploitation of new nurses by hospitals.

To finish their studies, nursing students must pass through formidable hoops. And successfully hurdling the board exams—something aspiring nurses work their entire college life to achieve—is not all there is to it. Before they graduate, they need to spend time working in a real hospital, where they would hopefully gain some valuable practical, real-world experience. This requirement is called “internship” or “residency.”

But now, even board passers, newly registered nurses, are asked to pay in order to be allowed to serve as “volunteer” nurses in hospitals. Hard put to find hospital employment because of an “oversupply” of nurses in the Philippines (now numbering around 160,000 unemployed and underemployed), they need to “volunteer” to gain actual work experience that may be strictly required for regular local or overseas employment. This is clearly exploitation of the worst kind.

A bill, filed in 2009 by Laguna Rep. Edgar San Luis, sought to penalize hospitals that force nursing students to pay them for internship. Hospitals found to be milking the students are supposed to be fined hundreds of thousands of pesos, and their guilty administrators could go to jail for a year. Similarly sought to be sanctioned were hospitals that would force interns to essentially work for free. The bill required hospitals to pay interns the minimum wage as well as to refund those nurses who had been forced to pay for residency. The present Congress should pass a law to this effect.

Such charges—and “volunteerism-for-a-fee” is no different, if not worse—are unneeded booby-traps for a profession already suffering from its own share of reality: as more and more nurses graduate, fewer jobs are being made available to them. And in a most painful twist, the foreign countries that used to welcome Filipino nurses—who often filled a need which those countries’ populations could not or would not meet—have narrowed their entry doors. The best example is Japan. Japanese authorities now require that Filipino nurses pass a very challenging examination that includes a need to master the Japanese language.

How far this particular version of the Filipino dream has fallen! Unable to find proper employment as nurses, many of the graduates have turned to other jobs like caregivers, and even to that all-prevalent shiny new aspiration, the call center agent.

But Filipino nurses represent a brave and selfless portion of the diaspora of our young and elders. Through devotion and competence, these nurses have made being Filipino a good thing around the world. It is time for the hospitals, the nursing schools and our government to reaffirm the nobility of the Filipino nurses who have continued to be role models, remembering to dispense care as best they can, even in a world that has grown ever smaller and dimmer for them.

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