A senior lawmaker on Wednesday called on the Department of Health (DOH) to track down almost 130,000 licensed nurses, who are believed jobless, underemployed or doing non-nursing jobs and then try hiring enough of them to fill the current gap, in lieu of the proposal by Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa to employ board exam flunkers, which “could end up being a cure worse than the disease.”
For starters, Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte said that the DOH should also find out who among the almost 30,000 graduates, who passed either of the two most recent Philippine Nurse (PN) Licensure Examination (NLE) tests but not yet working—and then “make its best effort to try convincing the still-jobless among these passers to fill up the DOH-estimated 4,500 nursing vacancies in government hospitals nationwide.”
“The immediate hiring of still-jobless NLE passers and or already licensed nurses but who are unemployed, underemployed or doing non-nursing jobs is a much better option than Secretary Ted [Herbosa]’s plan on the conditional hiring of unlicensed nurses or nursing board exam flunkers, which might possibly end up being a cure worse than the disease,” Villafuerte said.
He also cautioned Herbosa against hiring nursing graduates who flunked the NLE, as this could “likely open the door to the wholesale hiring of second-rate medical frontliners that could undercut our health-care system in the long haul.”
“While we laud newly confirmed DOH Secretary Health Secretary Ted [Herbosa] for thinking out of the box in finding swift ways to reverse the worsening nursing shortage, I fear that the conditional hiring of unlicensed nurses or graduates who had flunked the professional board exams as a way to instantly fill up the increasing number of vacancies could, in the end, chip away at our vaunted health-care system,” Villafuerte said.
He said the huge demand for Filipino doctors and nurses overseas, which is the main reason behind the worsening nursing shortage, underscores the country’s excellent health-care system.
“So what will happen to our health-care system that is highly esteemed across the globe if the DOH ends up filling the nursing vacancies with board exam flunkers who obviously are ill-prepared to become frontliners in our hospitals?” he asked.
Villafuerte issued the statement in response to Herbosa’s recent plan to immediately fill up 4,500 vacancies in over 70 DOH-run hospitals nationwide by granting temporary licenses to board-eligible nursing graduates and those who failed the NLE, and then assign them to these government medical facilities.
Villafuerte said that the government-accredited national association, Filipino Nurses United (FNU), citing DOH data, said recently there were about 124,000 registered nurses who, as of December 2021, were unemployed, underemployed or doing non-nursing work.
The FNU further said that 29,293 nursing graduates combined had passed the last two NLEs—18,529 in the November 2022 test and 10,764 in the May 2023 board exam.
“Nobody knows who among these 124,000 registered nurses as of end-2021 or the almost 30,000 new nursing board passers are still out of work or doing non-nursing jobs at this time,” Villafuerte said.
“The DOH would do well to track them down and try convincing a sufficient number of the still unemployed among them to work in government hospitals, as a way to start reversing the worsening nursing shortage in the country,” he added.
Villafuerte said that looking for the registered nurses and new board passers who are either without jobs yet or doing non-nursing work could be the priority of the National Nursing Advisory Council (NNAC), which Herbosa plans to set up to focus on addressing the concerns of Filipino nurses.
Herbosa announced last June his planned issuance of an administrative order (AO) to establish his proposed (NNAC).
Under Herbosa’s conditional hiring plan, the DOH will temporarily recruit nursing graduates who scored 70 percent-74 percent in the board exams—or below the passing score of 75 percent—on condition that they retake and pass the professional test within four years after they are hired, and then require them to continue working for government hospitals for four years after they pass the exam, before they are allowed to leave for abroad should they want to do so.
These temporary licensed nurses will then have to render up to four years of return service to a government hospital after they pass their board exam before they are allowed to leave for foreign jobs.