One Exam in Belfast

Bangor is a coastal town in the Southern side of Belfast City, Northern Ireland. My hotel room overlooked the sandy Marina Beach. If it wasn’t the silly seagulls calling out, it was the whispering breeze from the salty waters.

Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland, one of the Four countries that make up the United Kingdom. She houses the Titanic Museum and the now all too famous setting for the Game of Thrones.

Bangor is half an hour from the Capital and less that via train from the George Best Airport in Belfast.

Funny how one Country can be split and give birth to two. Sudan, you weren’t the first one. Ireland did it for us ages ago. We now have Ireland the Republic which is different from Northern Ireland. Welcome to Europe.

I was here for the sole purpose of training for Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). This is the final exam towards Registration as a Nurse in the United Kingdom. My employer, for some humorous reason, found it fulfilling to have me transverse the Irish and Northern seas in search of knowledge and skills at handling this exam.

There are numerous testing centres in the entire UK but my employer had booked our test at Ulster University in Londonderry. Londonderry is where you visit the Game of Thrones sites and moments. You are welcome.

I owe it to them for allowing me to tour a slice of beauty from the heavenly pie that is Belfast and particularly Bangor. Coupled with sights at the vintage museum, my mind was pacified and ready to handle my reality.

Visiting the beach was one thing but practising for the exam was another. I have always been horrible at practical Nursing exams. Not horrible in the sense that I don’t pass ; horrible in the sense that I can’t think when I have someone hovering over my shoulders.

I feel imbued with disparaging anxiety and my examiner can touch my disorganized thought bubbles; hold them in his defty hands and drop them like the hot mess they become. What made OSCE even less attractive to me is the fact that one is required to talk through their actions. There is audiovisual recording of every step and somehow time runs out before you can say OSCE.

In retrospect, this employer knew what lay ahead and decided to entice me with beautiful scenaries and free flights to and from Huntly in Aberdeen City, Scotland.

Talking of which, Huntly is the Turkana of Scotland. Why they sent me there is still a mystery to me. Why I accepted remains a parable of Biblical proportions.

I without a doubt believe that pain obscures one’s judgement. It also leads to sinister decisions. My settling for that tiny town in the middle of civilisation’s desert was a quintessential example. Let us go back to the exam.

Nursing process encompasses four or five steps depending on who you’re asking. If you ask the United Kingdom’s Nursing and Midwifery Council, they tell you four steps are enough. These include Assessment, Planning, Interventions and Evaluation. Do not ask me where Diagnosing went because I was as perplexed as you are.

OSCE therefore, seeks to determine your ability as a registered nurse to safely practice within these steps.

Each step is acted out either by real patients (patient actors) or by mannequins. Fair enough, right? Wrong!

You’re required to speak. Suppose you’re washing hands, naturally you just do it and dont bother explaining the steps. Even in my basic Nursing exams in Kenya, not once did I have to talk through the entire process of handwashing. I had only been required to say I’m washing my hands.

OSCE expects you to say something akin to the following:

“I have opened the tap now I’m checking to see if the water is at the right temperature for my hands as I wet my hands. Now I’m putting soap onto my hands to cover enough surface. I am now rubbing palm to palm,now back of each hand with fingers interlaced. Now washing in between the fingers with fingers interlaced, washing my thumb and web of each hand,knuckles of each hand. I am now rubbing my fingers onto the palms of each hand, washing my wrists. I am rinsing my hands then drying with disposable tissues. Now I’m closing the tap with my elbows. “

All these is said as you do it and also as the clock ticks and tocks down from either 15 or 8 minutes depending on the particular situation presented to you.

That is not all, there must be Skillset stations where the examiners and their camcorders watch you save life or quash it. To practice as a nurse we must ensure you’re a safe nurse. Safety is only measured in practice not on paper.

From Basic Life Support to Aseptic-Non- Touch-Techniques, one must demonstrate ability to deliver quality care and do so efficiently. That informs the timing of these actions. You must be nimble in thought and fingers.

Practice therefore, is paramount. Many nurses I’ve talked to cite the English exam as the hardest part of the entire process. For me, it was certainly the OSCE.

I excelled in it much to my own amazement. Perhaps the promise by my employer that they’d transfer me to the city if I passed on first attempt added to my zeal.

There are unfathomable pressures that come with training for an exam in a far flung place. They didn’t matter though because I met lovely souls from every corner of the world. I made friends from the Philippines, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Israel and my country of the day– Grenada.

I didn’t know Grenada was a country. Heck, vicarious travel makes one think they know squat about the world they live in while they don’t. We shared different values but our love for nursing was universal. That plus Filipinos are excellent cooks. Yes I had to write it here somewhere. Food and I are in a stable relationship. Ha ha.

Their scrumptious chicken curry and chicken SomethingSomethingElse is to die for. I ate unreservedly. It allowed me a great chance to learn about the difference between Nursing education in the Philippines and in Kenya.

Being a sucker for Education, it marveled me that the Philippines abolished any other level of Nursing education less than a Bachelor’s degree. That to me is classical of a people interested in career development.

It explains the seamless transition of Filipino nurses into Western and Eastern healthcare systems. They have the papers to prove their qualifications. I nostalgically wished Kenya would one day get there. Where students upon graduating high school confidently approach University for a Bachelor’s degree in nursing.

The presence of Diplomas and Certificates in Nursing waters down the very profession we keep trying to herald forward. We will get there someday.

As the train galloped to George Best Airport in Belfast, I soaked in the earth-red houses adorning the shoreline of the city.

What a contrast to the humourless grey houses of Aberdeen! Aberdeen is famous for oil and granite. Granite therefore is the very mineral that coats the building bricks. In summer it sparkles in the sun. However, if you’re not looking, and I wasn’t, it is all backwater. Nothing ever happens there and it happens all the time.

For the purposes of information, there was a total of three examinations before I could finally call myself a UKRN. It started with the English Exam, a Competence Based Exam and finally the OSCE.

The first two are done in Kenya. They are easily available and unnecessarily expensive by my metrics. Lately, the Nursing And Midwifery Council subsidized the cost of the Competence based exam. It is cheaper today than it was when I did it.

YouTube offers great tutorials on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Exam. I prefer that to lecturers who will more often than not take your money and not deliver. Have confidence in yourself.

The difference between the English exam and OSCE is that the former seeks to prove that you don’t know a thing while the latter seeks to demonstrate that you know more than you give yourself credit for.

As I pulled the covers over my tired body in that shared apartment in Huntly, I envisioned myself passing the OSCE. The feeling of listlessness warmed my duvet and allowed me to have a fitful sleep. I needed to get out of that living death.

14 thoughts on “One Exam in Belfast

  1. Stalkee, I definitely know you’ll hack whatever comes your way. You have a strength in you that I amazes me.
    And yes, you look really awesome in that new uniform, UKRN.
    Keep writing, I learn, laugh and cry in equal measure.

    Liked by 1 person

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