FOR more than two decades now, being a registered nurse has been seen as a first class ticket out of poverty. The common belief is that nurses once called to enter the employment pool give better economic advantage to their families.

However, recent events in the world of nursing in the Philippines have proven these statements wrong. Being a nurse is no longer a sure ticket, there are instead two faces on a coin that's flipping in the air.

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The first side shows the face where fewer college enrollees are opting to take the course.

The recent 39.73 percent passing rate is the lowest ever in the history of the country. That is quite ironic considering that the 94,462 takers of the exam is the highest number on record. It reflects mediocre if not poor nursing training and education in the country.

In addition to that, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said in a newspaper interview that the desire among Filipinos to take up nursing has declined also because of the continuing slump in the demand for nurses abroad. TUCP Secretary-General Ernesto Herrera reported a 28 percent decline in employment of Filipino nurses in the United States recently. The weak labor economy in America is actually contributing to this employment decline. Hospitals and nursing homes can no longer afford additional nurses. Herrera said, "Instead of recruiting new practitioners, many American hospitals are simply asking their existing nursing staff to render extra working hours."

On the other side of the coin is the silver lining.

The waning quality of nursing training and education actually rings the alarm for the government to act. Schools found to be there just for the profit, with no evident commendable progress in the quality of education they dispense, can be closed down.

Also, it is a wake-up call for the country. Nursing, as a course, has been seen as a one-way ticket out of poverty. Its real reason, caring for the sick and saving lives has been forgotten by many. Now, because the course has lost its appeal to the dollar-hungry, it has become what it primordially was, a course for those who want to care for the sick and save lives.

There is no way to predict where this trend will end. It may go to the bad side -- where the country's reputation for training life savers will worsen. It may go to the good side -- where the country will clean up and revive its reputation for molding medical practitioners. As of now, the coin is in the air, flipping.

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Sunday Essays are compositions by third year Masscom students of Ateneo de Davao University for their journalism class. (Ianne Angel M. Aquino)