Indonesians seek flexibility in exam for foreign nurses

Indonesia’s nursing association has called on the Japanese government to be more flexible in the national nursing exam so more foreign nurses can pass it and work in the nation.

Achir Yani, president of the Indonesian National Nurses’ Association, made the call following a recent announcement by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry that only three nurses — two from Indonesia and one from the Philippines — passed this year’s exam.

They were among 254 foreigners who took the exam in February and are the first successful applicants. Last year, none of the 82 foreign applicants passed.

Yani said the two Indonesians — Yared Febrian Fernandes and Ria Agustina, both 26 — have proved that “what is impossible is now possible,” referring to how difficult the exam is.

The Japanese-language requirement and technical terms used in the exam are thought to pose a high hurdle for foreign nurses.

“I myself am not satisfied because I know that (Indonesian applicants) are very competent, but the language (requirement) has made them fail,” Yani said.

During an ongoing survey her association is conducting in cooperation with a Japanese university, the professor at the University of Indonesia said the nurses expressed a wish that “furigana,” a kanji pronunciation aid, be allowed.

They also requested four chances to take the exam, instead of three, considering the first opportunity comes only six months after their training.

“So, for sure, they are not going to make it,” Yani said.

She expressed concern that unless the government accepts the requests of the foreign applicants, Indonesian nurses, especially those who have not been recruited yet, will be discouraged.

She also suggested that hospitals in Japan take note of the efforts made by the hospital where Fernandes and Agustina work to support them in their Japanese-language study.

Both women came to Japan from Indonesia in 2008 and are working at a hospital in Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture.

“That can be a lesson learned by other hospitals so their nurses will also be able to pass the exam with the support they have,” Yani said, adding it is her understanding that numerous hospitals in Japan appreciate the contributions of their Indonesian nurses and want them to become registered nurses.

Japan began accepting foreign nurses and caregivers in 2008 to address labor shortages in the medical and nursing service fields.

Foreign nurses are required to return to their home countries if they fail to pass the nurse qualifying exam within three years. Caregivers need to clear the qualifying exam within four years.

In talks with Indonesian and Philippine officials in January, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada promised to consider addressing the language barrier for foreign nurses.

The health ministry is now studying the use of simpler terms in the exam and helping foreign nurses study the Japanese language, officials said.

In the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years through last Wednesday, Japan accepted 277 nurses and 293 caregivers from Indonesia. In 2009, 280 health care workers came to Japan from the Philippines.