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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Nurse Update: Nursing education

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A Filipino doctor based in Fresno, California, has radically changed the concept of a nursing school, which may become the future template for Philippine nursing education.

Dr. Johnny Fong, a University of the Philippines graduate, is pioneering an innovative nursing education model which cuts by half the period for nursing degree courses, dramatically reduces tuition cost, and awards US diplomas without the aspirant actually going to the US. Here is how it works.

A regular Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN) takes four years. Add one more year for the local board exam, and you have five years. Johnny’s concept reduces this to two years based on an Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ASDN), which involves an intensive trimester system and includes taking the board exam, not the local but the US one called National Council Licensure Exam (CLEX). The difference between the BSN and the ASDN are the non-clinical courses added to the BSN curriculum. Beyond that, it is the same training in terms of skills for nursing, demanding the same salary and job description. It must be clarified that the ASDN course produces not Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) but licensed Registered Nurses (RNs).

Johnny’s fast-track model involves two affiliated nursing schools, one in Metro Manila, the St. Ignatius Health Science College, and one in Saipan, the University of Loyola (UOL). A key ingredient in the model is that Saipan is part of the US Commonwealth of Northern Marian Islands (CNMI), where nursing courses are accredited by the US nursing education system based on a US curriculum. In other words, one ends up with a US diploma, not a local one. With a US degree, nursing graduates are given first preference in hospital hiring. There is also no need to take the English proficiency exam.

A nursing student goes through an intensive trimester curriculum in Manila for 20 months, then four months in Saipan, for a total of two years. The St. Ignatius Health Science College prepares the student nurse for the final four months at UOL, which will grant the ASDN. After graduating in Saipan, the nurse can obtain a Saipan working visa and work while waiting for a US visa. While a BSN holder in the Philippines spends five years to finish the US board exam and another three years to get a visa, or a total of eight unproductive years, an ASDN holder in Saipan spends only two years and is already earning money before she even gets a US visa. A nurse in Saipan earns more than a nurse in the Philippines, since Saipan has the same labor standards as mainland USA. In fact, a Saipan nurse earns more than a US nurse because she pays no federal tax and spends less owing to Saipan’s lower standard of living. Finally, if you still want your BSN, you can take courses part time while working in Saipan or the US.

This looks attractive, especially to parents selling their last carabao to make their daughter a nurse, since the tuition expenses for two years is smaller than for four years. But there is a catch. The model adheres to American educational standards. Johnny knows that in order for the model to be sustainable, the Filipino diploma-mill system cannot be applied. The rigid screening process involves US-designed entrance exams, essay writing, and an interview by a five-member panel. If only 20 are chosen from 500 applicants, that is the way it would be. Whether you are a well-educated Manila student or the daughter of a Bukidnon farmer, as long as your skills meet the requirements, you are in the program. In short, the model, based on skills, levels the playing field for the rich and the poor.

Under our diploma-mill environment, a nursing school accepts practically everyone. The entrance exam is just a formality. Students go through a program which 90% eventually fail to finish. The diploma mill milks the poor farmer from Bukidnon only to find his daughter is not qualified after three years of trying. At the root of the problem is that some of our educators are not really interested in educating but in making money.

In the new system, you are not admitted into the program if you are not qualified by US standards. It does not waste your time or your money. If you are in the program, you get a US-designed nursing curriculum, you finish the course in half the time, you get a US diploma, a US license, and the chance to earn money early. Every year you earn $60,000, the US nurse’s salary scale. What more can you ask?

The program is run by the non-profit non-stock Loyola Medical College Foundation, which awards scholarships to 20% of the student populace and tuition loans to 40%. The remaining 40% are regular paying students, the income from whom is plowed back into the system and is enough to support the scholarships and tuition

To fulfill its mission-vision to bring more globally competitive, highly trained Filipino nurses into the US health care system, UOL is now expanding its program, seeking affiliations from existing nursing schools, potential educators, and community leaders to bring the program to their respective communities.


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