12/04/2014 11:01 EST | Updated 02/03/2015 05:59 EST

Quebec nursing students say poor translation led to failed exams

Dozens of Quebec nursing students who wrote the provincial licensing exam say their failing grades are due to its poor translation from French to English.

Students who wrote the exam in September have now received their grades by mail.

"I got my letter and I just started crying because I was so discouraged," said StéphanieDesgagné.

Desgagné is one of more than 350 people who signed a petition this fall complaining the English version of the exam was poorly translated.

At the time, the Quebec Order of Nurses insisted its translation process was solid. 

Nursing student Gabriela Mizrahi launched the petition and is convinced translation problems led to failures. Mizrahi passed the exam, but said many colleagues and classmates did not.

"I know of at least 23 people from Dawson who have failed, most of them have failed by about one to four per cent, which is just so close. It's heartbreaking," Mizrahi said.

Order calls meeting with nursing colleges

This week, the Quebec Order of Nurses called a meeting with all the English-language institutions that teach nursing.

"The petition brought into light a concern from the students, and the [Order] takes this concern very seriously. So we thought that the best way to address the issue was to meet with our collaborators, and see if there is a problem and how we could address it," said Chantal Lemay, the nurse responsible for the professional exam.

Representatives from Quebec nursing schools said they're pleased to help the Quebec Order of Nurses figure out what went wrong.

"We are very concerned because our students have done very well in the past or relatively well, and this is a difference, so we have to find out what's going on," said Mechelina Thissen, a nursing co-ordinator at Vanier College.

Flags raised about exam before translation

Thissen said the problem could go beyond the issue of translation. 

At the meeting with the Quebec Order of Nurses, Dawson nursing program co-ordinator Fiona Hanley raised questions about how the exam committee prepares the test questions — before the translation process.

"Who is in the committees? What's the background of the people who are in the committees and are there representatives from the English sector for example in the structuring of the exam? Those are some of the questions I had raised."

The Quebec Order of Nurses said success rates for various schools are not yet available.

In the meantime, the Order plans to meet with English-language nursing schools again in January.

Representatives of the nursing schools hope that if a problem is identified, it can be resolved before the next chance to sit the licensing exam in March.

Students who failed the September exam have the option to pay about $200 for a review.