45 Minutes with CNU's Topnotchers

The nursing school at Cebu Normal University (CNU) is a perennial producer of board topnotchers. In this year's May examinations, nine of its graduates made it to the top 10. It consistently garners top places since the school's inception. Its wall of fame speaks for that!

We got three of them for an interview. Why not?

Kathlyn Orozco Tan, Renee Camille Laguda and Chiara Gabiana obtained their BSN degree at CNU last March 2015. All three were participants in the 3rd and 4th International Conference of Nurses held in Cebu City. Kathlyn and Renee both landed at the 10th place while Chiara took the 7th spot in this year's Philippine Nursing Licensure Examinations (PNLE).

1. Can you share your personal and collective experiences that led you to obtain that high score and eventually, high rankings in the latest board examinations?

Laguda: The past months (or years, I should say) which led to all of this were long and arduous. I could say that we actually started our preparation early on, with the rigorous training that was given by our school. We even started our review while we were still studying, and that was way ahead of schedule. For that, we took pride in our work, knowing that there was a lot to gain in all of this.
I was having a hard time myself - I was so caught-up with the daily grind, juggling school, requirements, review classes, my passions, family and prayer life. Then again, I had my 'blinders' on, because I was so determined to make something out of myself. I studied, I worked, I prayed, and the focus I had was unbelievable. One of our mentors taught us to 'leave no stone unturned'. That finally paid off, I guess.

Tan: They say that you can’t simply handle thinking two different things at the same time. I say, why not? Being a nursing student, especially preparing for a board exam really needs thinking a lot. If you’d ask me the whats, the hows and the whys of my becoming, there’s really nothing interesting to know. But let me share with you a tiny bit of my experience. As the days of the board exam are coming, I went from being calm and relax to being anxious and paranoid to feeling nothing. I won’t say that I didn’t study because I have, and I together with my batch sacrificed a lot. I gave up my weekends, abandoned my guilty pleasures, and pushed myself to do more as I rummaged between schoolwork and reviews. Re-reading books was managed just right after we graduated because I don’t want to read just for the sake that I have read. I don’t want to read just to memorize but instead I want to have complete focus of my readings and comprehend it because there’s really no need to memorize because it is a multiple type of examination. During the last two remaining months before the exam, I really spared longer times in reading. I just took my time and ended up finishing only two books. The preparation was never easy and the journey to becoming what I have now was never an easy path.

Gabiana: Actually, I can say that my experiences were no extraordinary from those of the thousands who were also preparing for the NLE. I enrolled in a review center, attended classes, study, sleep, and of course pray. I can also rememeber the motivations that kept me going and prevented me from completely giving up which, ironically, were my self doubts and from the people around me.

2. Being a board topnotcher, don’t you feel pressured to excel in your professional workplace?

Laguda: The pressure is always there, and I guess we owe it to the people who made this possible. Our success as topnotchers and board passers is a collective effort, it's not something that we would be able to reach on our own. Again, striving for excellence is an important thing in this profession because we are dealing with lives here. There is virtually no room for error, and the people we work with are precious. Therefore, the attitude of excellence should be imposed not only on those who did well in the board exams - it goes for every RN.

Tan: For me, being a topnotcher doesn’t put you in any place higher than anyone, because I believed that even if was given this great privilege, being tagged as “topnotcher” only state that I did good in that certain event or exam. It doesn’t mean that I am that good in practice. I am not pressured of excelling in the workplace because I know my place. And as a novice, I still have a lot of things to learn now, not by the book but by experience and practice. And for sure, I will be doing everything to the best that I can. What I am pressured is how I may adapt and carry myself to facing another set of obstacles and trials being a professional nurse may entail.

Gabiana: Yes, maybe. I'm afraid that there's this untold 'stigma' that makes people expect more from nurses who got higher board exam ratings.

3. Any tips for undergraduate students?

Laguda: I feel underqualified to give some tips, but I do believe that as early as now, undergrads should think about the big picture - other than grades and their academic performance, they should be thinking about how they could give back through the profession they chose. Aside from thinking about their career paths, future nurses should find ways to become more involved, avoiding indifference which is commonplace in this generation. Sometimes, we may lose sight of the most important things in life. I hope, though, that our future colleagues would be able to bring heart to the profession. Together with competence, caring is also central to nursing practice.

Tan: To future nurses that will take the board exam, just suit your preparation to your style. Don’t cloud your minds with what others did but instead make them an inspiration to modify the study habit you are most adept with. And of course, don’t forget yourself. Sleep a lot, eat right and pray hard!

Gabiana: It's never too early to prepare. Eventhough they're still months away from judgement day, they should never forget to prepare themselves little by little. For example, answering practice questions everyday. They also need to prepare themselves both emotionally and spiritually, because the journey is hard. And most importantly, to never overdo studying, nor underestimate it. Just like what an alumna told us during our review days, "Study at your own pace" which means study hard and the same time have enough sleep. That advice led me to where I am right now. It got rid of all the stress, pressure, and all those negative vibes that surrounded me.