The Nursing Profession and the Health Care Situation Today

During the hype of the nursing profession in the early 2000s, thousands of high school graduates and course-shifters opted to take up B.S. Nursing, some of them in pursuit of their childhood dream to attend to the sick and needy. But majority of those who enroll in this course would like to fulfill a different dream, and that is to work abroad and earn dollars, the monthly salary equivalent to a year’s work here in our country.

As opposed to the stigma attached to nursing students and graduates that they just want to become registered nurses for materialistic purposes, it is still noble to take up nursing even if it is not one’s lifelong dream. Some people criticize nurses for being money-faced, but seriously, is that too bad? Is it a crime to aspire for financial stability and comfort for our families? Is it punishable to work in a foreign land just to provide food on the table back home? Is it selfish having to suffer homesickness in order to give quality education to our children? We study, graduate, pass the board exam, work, and then earn to improve our ways of living. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

However, due to the high demand of nurses before, and of the current situation of the global economy, there is now an oversupply of nurses in the country. In November 2008, it is reported that there are 100,000 unemployed Filipino nurses, and in less than two years, it has increased by almost fifty percent. According to the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), it is estimated that the number has reached to 187,000 in July 2010. The Nurse Licensure Exam (NLE) is held twice a year, and there has been three board exams conducted after the last given statistics. Based from the results of the recent July 2011 NLE, 37,513 passed out of 78,135. From that number alone, it can be therefore concluded that there are more than 200,000 unemployed Filipino nurses today.

The sad part is, these nurses, after having passed the board exam, volunteered for organizations, and trained for various hospitals, still do not have a regular job as a registered nurse. It is not a secret that nurses nowadays are the ones paying hospitals just to gather experience in the clinical setting.

Being a recent board passer and a newly registered nurse, I have once been a student nurse, and based from my experience, hospitals do not hire sufficient number of nurses to meet their staffing needs. Many times I had been assigned to government hospitals, and I simply do not understand why out of thousands of unemployed nurses, there are only two regular staff nurses in a ward with over 50 patients. One does not need to be a registered nurse to figure out that it is physically and mentally impossible to deliver safe and quality nursing care to patients with such unproportional nurse-to-patient ratio.

I was once assigned at a ward in a tertiary-level hospital with more than a hundred female geriatric patients. As I remember them, I could not help but cry for the pitiful situation they are in. Their ward, without exaggeration, can resemble as a large dog house, only that it is occupied by humans. The patients sleep on long wooden tables that serve as their bed. Since incontinence is one of the most common problems of the elderly, most of them urinate and defecate on the floor instead of going to the rest room, which is why the foul odor permeating in the air cannot be removed even by bleaching the floors and walls. I do not recall if they eat three times a day, since our duty is only for 8 hours, but what I cannot forget is the food they are being served with. Their lunch is placed in a large plastic bucket or drum, and is served individually in bowls that dogs usually use. All they had for lunch was rice mixed with broth and a few leaves of kangkong. I was ashamed of myself, recalling the delicious food that I eat everyday, as compared to theirs.

What makes it much worse is the way medicines are being administered. In a ward with more than a hundred patients, it is considered fortunate enough to find three staff nurses on duty at a given shift. The nurse-on-duty would just call the patients alphabetically by their surname, give the patient her oral medication, observe her to swallow it, and then puts a mark beside the patient’s name on the checklist after they are finished. For safety and legal purposes, it is a standard operating procedure that every medication should be checked according to the 10 rights of drug administration; one of them is right documentation. In this category alone, where is safe and quality nursing care exemplified?

How do we expect then to cure the patients of their disease? With this kind of health care delivery system, do we still expect to meet our Millennium Development Goals? Most importantly, how do we prosper as a nation, if there are plenty of Filipinos out there, unable to be productive to earn a living, just because they cannot afford to be admitted in private hospitals and pay for hospital and professional fees, let alone avail of medicines?

Our nation is too consumed with the political turmoil caused by corrupt traditional politicians. But do you ever stop and wonder how the health care situation is today? We live in a democratic society where we elect officials who we think are deserving and capable of serving our nation. Therefore, the government, in its entirety, should be for the people and by the people. But how come we are all tuned in to never-ending debates about political injustice, when there are more important things to care about. Thousands of people die everyday, because they cannot buy medicines, be attended to in a hospital, or undergo screenings and consultations to be diagnosed and treated accordingly.

The Generics Act is not enough. The RH Bill is not enough. The Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act is not enough. Before we make solutions for interventions, we should first think of persons who will carry out such interventions. The government should see the 200,000 unemployed Filipino nurses as assets and not burdens of the country. Instead of squeezing in over a hundred patients to just two or three nurses, why not employ more nurses to assure that interventions and procedures are safely done and documented. Why not stop nurse exploitation and false volunteerism and offer us valid and long-term employment to meet your staffing needs? It is not enough for student nurses, volunteers, and nurse trainees to do the job without being compensated in return. Let the thousands of jobless, non-practicing registered nurses do the job they are licensed for. As professionals, registered nurses have not finished a bachelor’s degree, passed the NLE, and claimed their licenses just to work in various, unrelated fields that do no justice to the titles attached to our names.

If we would like to make progress as a nation, we should start with our most valuable resource, and that is manpower. It hurts to see my license just tucked away in my wallet and not using it in its truest sense, but what brings me more pain is to see this beautiful nation dying a slow death, just as the patients who are eating rice mixed with broth and a few leaves of kangkong.

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