Health minister clears the air on revised nursing diploma fiasco

The scholarship for a diploma in nursing at the Faculty of Nursing and Public Health (FNPH) under the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences (KGUMS) requires biology as the main subject for selection ( Pic : FNPH)

They say decision was based on the national interest and practices in some other countries which do not have strict science requirements for the diploma level programs

Lhakpa Tshering

Given employment opportunities abroad for medical professionals, the Lhengye Zhungtshog directed the Bhutan Medical and Health Council (BMHC) to do away with the existing minimum admission eligibility requirements to pursue Diploma in Nursing from Science stream to students with a background in Commerce and Arts.

This decision comes after the governing body of the council discussed the issue at various levels in terms of the merits and demerits of the change in eligibility criteria following which the Lhengye Zhungtshog decided to change the existing eligibility criteria which limits to only science students.

Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo, who is the President of the General Council Body of BMHC, said the decision was to provide opportunities for interested Bhutanese youth to acquire skills and qualifications to work as nurses abroad.

“Nurses are highly in demand in many developed countries and this opportunity will open up avenues for our Bhutanese,” she said.

A few are even of the opinion that the move was undertaken to suit the needs of private nursing institutions and that BMHC has colluded with them to help these institutions rope in more trainees for the courses they offer.

Rebutting the criticisms of the government facing pressure from the private nursing colleges for not getting enough science students, Lyonpo said, the private nursing institutes are not totally devoid of science students.

The decision, Lyonpo said was, based on the national interest and practices in some other countries which do not have strict science requirements for the diploma level programs.

“While there are countries which emphasize having a science background, there are also countries which do not have such requirements as the diploma program is the lower level program which serves as a foundational course for the higher degrees,” she said.

Lyonpo added that the Lhengye Zhungtshog has discussed the merits of opening up the opportunity for the youth who are interested to take the nursing profession but unfortunately could not pursue it because of stringent entry requirements.

“While the nursing program requires knowledge in science, the profession also demands other qualities such as compassion, hard work, empathy, among others, to ensure the quality of care,” Lyonpo said.

This new eligibility criterion applies only to the private nursing institutes where it doesn’t require a science stream. But the scholarship for a diploma in nursing at the Faculty of Nursing and Public Health (FNPH) under the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences (KGUMS) requires biology as the main subject for selection.

On this front, Lyonpo clarified that every university or institute will have its own admission criteria and process to enroll students according to the objectives and programs.

“The university and affiliated institutes in Bhutan also have a system to set the admission criteria,” she said. “They will follow this system to make any adjustments to the admission criteria based on the notification by the BMHC.”

Is there a danger of compromising with the quality of graduates produced and the risk of producing incompetent professionals given the mismatch?

The selection for most professional courses in tertiary education in the country is based on subjects and streams. And many feel that the new criteria set for a diploma in nursing could compromise the quality.

Lyonpo Dasho Dechen Wangmo said that the university and institutes will consider the knowledge level of the students and accordingly institute mechanisms to ensure the quality of the graduates.

The President of KGUMS, Dr KP Tshering, said the university as a certifying institution, will ensure no students from the nursing program will graduate without minimum required competency, skills and knowledge.

He said the university will have centralized examinations including affiliated (private) institutions. “We will not compromise with the quality of graduates, as our products deal with humans’ lives,” he said. “We are planning to streamline and strengthen the assessment and examination systems to ensure quality.”

Dr KP Tshering also said arts and commerce students can cope up but they will have to work extra and sweat. “University will not compromise with quality,” he said. ‘We will not change curriculum. The curriculum will remain the same.”

He said that BMHC’s criterion is the minimum requirement for the program. “The university will come up with ability rating considering the relevancy of the subject to the program, quality, and other requirements,” he added.

As per BMHC Act 2002 and Regulation 2005, any changes can be affected only if recommended by the General Council Body – the highest policy-making body. But it was learned that the majority of the council members were not in favour of changing the admission requirements.

However, four contracted members of the General Council Body, including the registrar of the BMHC, refused to comment on this issue. There are 19 members in the governing council body including the health minister as president and health secretary as vice-president.

In the past year, the council secretariat has also received requests to register the Diploma in General Nursing and Midwifery (GNM) graduates with a background in arts and commerce who had undergone the course in India.

This was discussed in the executive committee and further submitted to the General Council Body. After a directive to the council secretariat to study the international practices for amending the relevant clause, it recommended that the eligibility clause should not be changed.

Dr Sonam Dukpa of Private Diagnostic Canter, who is also a member of the General Council Body, also said that Bhutan having so many problems in human resources, it should always look for adjustable ways with certain flexibility without affecting standard in every field.

He said, in the 1980s when he was the lone surgeon in the country, he had to take on the personal responsibility to learn and manage those surgeries and have saved many lives and gave relief to many. “So if somebody is committed with feelings and interest to serve the Nation, then it is possible,” he said.

An experienced medical professional in Thimphu said that if the new criterion is to be considered, the existing criteria for other medical fields regardless of being a degree level or diploma level holds no relevance. “This is a huge let down for medical students who have dedicated their three to five years of life in medical studies,” she said.