Philippines Bypassed Again as NCLEX-RN Test Site

By Reuben S. Seguritan
February 10, 2006
Foreign nurses who come to the US as immigrant workers must undergo three important testing and certification processes, namely: the CGFNS certification; the passing of the NCLEX and the Visa Screen certification. All of these are intended to ascertain that the nursing skill and knowledge of the foreign nurse meets the standards of the US healthcare system.

There is something to be said against the requirement of undergoing (and paying for) three different certification processes that ascertain the same matter, i.e., nursing competency. Recent events, however, draw our attention to the NCLEX itself.

RN exam

The National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) is a standardized exam that entry-level nurses are required to pass prior to licensing by the applicable state nursing board. It is in an interactive computerized multiple choice format, which the candidate must complete in five hours, including breaks. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers this exam.

The NCLEX used to be conducted in the United States and its territories alone, which meant that foreign nurses needed to spend considerable time and money to take the exam. Many Filipino nurses traveled to Guam and some went all the way to the US just to take the exam.

Test Sites

In light of the US nursing shortage and the clamor to have test sites abroad, however, the NCSBN designated NCLEX test sites outside the US in January 2005. These new test sites are in Seoul, Hong Kong and London.

The Philippines was conspicuously edged out as an NCLEX test site purportedly for security reasons. This decision did not make sense for numerous US medical facilities and private recruiters considering that the Philippines has been and still is the largest source of foreign nurses.

In 2004 alone, 10,350 Filipino nurses took the NCLEX as first timers, making the Philippines the top origin country of internationally educated nurses taking the NCLEX examination. Nurses from Canada (2,135), India (2,053), South Korea (1,228) and China (433) were placed far behind in terms of the volume of internationally educated nurses taking the NCLEX. An estimated 85 percent of the NCLEX-takers are Filipino nurses.

International Nursing Conference Update

At the 5 th International Nursing Conference held last January 25 to 27 in Honolulu, I was privileged to be one of the speakers. I raised several issues regarding the global migration of Filipino nurses before a panel of discussants moderated by PNAA Education Chair Rey Rivera and which included CGFNS President Lucille Joel, Dr. Annabelle Borromeo of ABMCI, and Dr. Marilyn Lorenzo of the National Institute of Health. Barbara Blakeney, President of the American Nurses Association was also in attendance.

One issue that provoked a lot of discussion from the panel and the audience alike was the absence of an NCLEX test site in the Philippines.

With the assurances of the Philippine government, Philippine nurse organizations, medical facilities and private recruiters that the security and testing integrity concerns will be addressed, the clamor to designate the Philippines an NCLEX testing site is growing louder.

Toward the end of the conference, the Chairperson of the PNAA Task Force for NCLEX Administration Site in the Philippines, Filipinas J. Lowery, announced that the Philippines was not included again in the shortlist of new NCLEX testing locations. This announcement was made after a conference call among Dr. Casey Marks of NCSBN; Mila Velasquez, PNAA President; Ampy dela Paz, PNA Executive Director; and Ruth Padilla, outgoing PNA President and Ms. Lowery. The additional testing locations will be in Australia, India, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Germany and Taiwan.

Feasibility Study

At best, the NCSBN will assess the feasibility of creating a test center in the Philippines. According to Casey Marks, an important factor in designating the NCLEX test site is the presence of Pearson professional testing center in the country. The Philippines has no such testing center yet.

The promise to assess the Philippines as a test site does not really amount to much for Filipino nurses who are ready to take the NCLEX. The fact is, the chances of having a test center in the Philippines depend not just on the lobbying efforts of nurse organizations like the PNA and PNAA but on the Philippine government’s ability to address the security concerns of the NCSBN.

The Philippine Department of Labor, the Philippine Regulatory Commission, and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas must coordinate their efforts with the nursing groups in trying to reach the goal of having a test site in the Philippines. Hopefully soon Filipino nurses would not have to leave the Philippines to take the NCLEX.