Reflections on a capping ceremony

This is a late post of my column last Monday, May 26.

It’s been quite a while since I last saw a nurse wearing the standard— some would describe it as archaic —uniform: All-white dress, white shoes (and not rubber sneakers variety), and a nurse’s cap perched on top of her head.

My older sister, who is a nurse, used to complain about how being in an all-white getup was so inconvenient and how that white cap always got in the way of her chores in the hospital. The cap, she said, gave her headaches as it had to be fastened securely with pins. And because nurses had to fix them every now and then to keep them in place one can only wonder at the quantity and kind of germs and bacteria those caps played host to.

Thus, I can understand why most nurses today opt for those colored scrub suits even if they sure make them look like they are on their way to or just came from a pajama party; a description which I am told is better compared to the one which likens them to cleaning personnel. But if I were a nurse, I would probably also prefer a uniform that is more convenient and practical. And I certainly would not wear those caps.

So if hardly anyone wears a nurse’s cap anymore, why do nursing schools still hold capping ceremonies for incoming third year nursing students? This was a question that was top of mind last week when I attended my son’s candlelight and capping ceremony. Obviously, my son is male and wore a pin rather than a cap. In fact, half of the students in his class were males, a reflection of how the nursing profession has changed through the years.

The answer became obvious as the three-hour ritual got under way: It was a ceremonial pow wow aimed at reminding everyone, the would-be nurses in particular, about the historical and social value of the nursing profession. The guest speaker (a decorated military nurse with the Air Force carrying the rank of captain) and all those who mounted the podium delivered the usual platitudes about the nobility of the profession and how, at the very end, it is about serving humanity.

I am not sure though that all those efforts to recall and invoke the bravery and selflessness of Florence Nightingale worked. In the interest of calling a spade a dirty shovel, we all know why most of our students are in nursing schools. The reason is because there is a huge demand for nurses abroad, with some experts predicting that the demand will continue to increase in the next 10 years. A career in nursing offers the most promising opportunity toward a lucrative job abroad. This is why even professional doctors are enrolling in nursing schools.

This is also the reason why a number of unscrupulous people are preying on hapless students. A number of learning institutions are suddenly offering nursing courses despite the fact that they obviously don’t have the capability to train nurses. Just recently, we heard about a nursing review center in Laguna that embezzled the money that nursing students forked out to pay for their board examinations in June.

And this is why our regulatory bodies are continuously tinkering with the nursing curriculum, implementing stop-gap measures rather than putting their foot down and closing nursing schools that are really nothing but glorified diploma factories. I am told that the reason why this cannot be done is because many of these schools are owned by people who walk the corridors of power. So our regulatory bodies are content with coming up with palliative solutions such as their latest inspired madness: Increasing the hours nursing students spend in clinical training and in general lengthening the duration students spend in school.

The acrobatic logical rationale is that forcing students to spend more time in training would make them more capable. We all know the logic stinks because it really doesn’t matter how many years a student spends in the classroom—it’s the quality of instruction that matters; it’s the availability of facilities that makes the difference. With more than a thousand nursing students crammed into hospitals at any given time, most of them end up simply loitering on hallways and not getting any real clinical experience at all.

Many students are in nursing schools with nary a thought or appreciation for the intellectual or emotional intelligence required for and by the profession.

Thus, I can understand why nursing schools worth their names and reputations continue to sustain rituals and ceremonies, like capping and candlelight ceremonies that strike most as already irrelevant. They even had to make adjustments in the process. For example, because the cavernous SMX Convention Center which was the venue for the ceremonies, does not allow lighted candles inside the hall, the candlelight ceremonies had to do with battery operated bulbs attached to the replicas of the oil lamp Florence Nightingale used during the Crimean War.

As I sat there in the middle of the convention center, reading a book in the midst of all the pandemonium of kith and kin scrambling all over themselves to take pictures and videos of the would-be nurses, I couldn’t help overhearing the lament, the hopes and the aspirations of the other parents.

A very proud mother beside me was droning on and on about the difficulties her family had to endure to make sure that they would continue to be able to afford sending their daughter to this particular nursing school, renowned for stringent academic cutoffs and expensive tuition. A group of parents behind me were swapping stories about how they had to spend sleepless nights sewing the costumes for a cultural number their children had to mount for one of the related learning subjects. I, too, am familiar with most of these stories although my own personal sacrifice has been limited to waking up earlier than usual or staying up late at night to chauffeur my son to school on occasion.

That’s when the realization hit me. The ritual was also being held for the benefit of parents.
So wearing a nurse’s cap may not be the norm anymore in hospitals, but the ceremonial act of putting it on stands for something that will always be relevant—as reference to what the nursing profession used to be about. And as a symbolic validation of the hopes and dreams of parents who only want the best for their children.


Twin-Skies said…
I am reminded of the Desperate Housewives bruhaha from last year. Specifically regarding all those angry retorts coming from the pinoy/pinay doctors and nurses both here and in North America.

I wonder if any of them have ever been to Recto recently. Last I checked, I ran into a couple of "Diploma Stands" set up right outside the MRT terminal. I couldn't make out what degrees they were selling, thought it's not too much a stretch of imagination to think it's probably got something to do with medical degrees.

Desperate Housewives - a racist remark, or a cleverly written satirical snipe at the condition of the RP educational system?

Thanks for the post, btw - I seldom get to write this coherently on the net :)

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