Younten Tshedup 

Aspiring nurses, who failed to take up science stream in their higher secondary education, can now pursue diploma in nursing programme.

The revision in the eligibility criteria for admission into the programme in various institutes comes after a Cabinet order to the Bhutan Medical and Health Council (BMHC).

According to the new eligibility criteria, any student with minimum 40 percent marks in any stream including English in Class XII can apply for a diploma in the nursing programme. 

Prior to the change, a Class XII student with a minimum of 40 percent marks in science subjects — Biology, Chemistry, and Physics — including English were eligible to join the diploma programme.

BMHC on April 10 notified all nursing institutes to abide by the new eligibility criteria with immediate effect. While many welcomed the move, there was almost equal opposition from both practising nurses and the general public.

Many took to social media to express their opinion on the decision taken by the cabinet and BMHC.

A practising nurse in Thimphu said that a person’s ability to become a good nurse should not be based on his or her academic qualifications (Class XI and XII). “Having good marks in science subjects doesn’t guarantee the person to be a good nurse. It largely depends on their attitude and the passion to learn which is taught during the training.”

She said that more than the academic knowledge nurses should have the quality to study and understand the patient’s emotional and psychological status. “Nursing is more than just inserting catheters, providing first aid or handing out medicines. It requires good communication skills and a genuine willingness to help others.”

On the contrary, one of the doctors said that the reason why science stream students were preferred over other streams for nursing programmes was because they were taught basic human anatomy in Classes XI and XII.

“I’ve seen many poor-quality nurses who do not get the basics right. Now these are people who have a basic understanding of the subject but they fail to execute even after three years of training,” she said. “If anything, the quality of training at the institutes should change.”

She said that besides the Faculty of Nursing and Public Health (FNPH) in Thimphu that trains nurses in the country, there are other private institutes producing nurses every year. “We need to assess the quality of nurses that are being produced annually. More than the number, it is the quality that matters.”

The doctor added that while compassion and caring characteristics are integral parts of being a nurse, a compassionate person who cannot put an IV cannula and pricks the patient 10 times and takes 30 minutes to get the work done cannot be considered a good nurse. “A patient may die in 30 minutes.”

Others said that for Bhutan, where all health care services are provided for free, there is no need for private nursing colleges. “If there is a shortage of nurses, expand the government facility like FNPH. I think this is a political move to give the private colleges advantage in getting more students in their institutes,” said another practising nurse.

Officials from the BMHC refused to comment. Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that the change in the admission criteria was only for the diploma programme.

Lyonpo, who is the President of the General Council Body of BMHC, said that besides making the programme more accessible and giving students more choices, the change in the criteria would allow skills and aptitude-based selection.

She said that a precondition for health care was compassion and good aptitude including the mindset and determination to learn. “We are creating this platform for all who are capable of becoming a good nurse.”

According to the Annual Health Bulletin 2020, there are 1,364 nurses in the country. The nurse to population ratio was 18.4 per 10,000 population, a relatively lower rate than most of the countries in Southeast Asia.