In the wake of my sister’s nursing pinning ceremony at the New York City College of Technology and the upcoming Philippine Independence Day Parade on June 7, there is no better time to write about the many Filipino women who choose to become nurses and the history of Filipino nurses in the US.
I once attended a show by Jo Koy, a famous Filipino-American comedian, at Town Hall on West 43rd Street. There were hundreds of Filipinos in the audience. Jo Koy asked the crowd: “How many Filipinos are here tonight?” Every single Filipino enthusiastically waved hands and cheered — the audience was at least 80 percent Filipino. His response? “Oh man. Somewhere in New York there must be an empty hospital!”
Why are there so many Filipino nurses in the US?
For Filipino nurses, the decision to migrate to the US is based largely on economics. The US has a huge demand for nurses and Filipinos are eager, able, and well-trained to work for the promise of comfort and stability for their families.
“There are push and pull factors that are at play,” says Rodel Rodis, a legal counsel for the Philippine Nurses Association of Northern California and a former professor of Filipino-American history at San Francisco State University. “The main push factor is the poor Philippine economy where an average RN earns only about five percent of what an RN is paid in the US. The main pull factor is the nursing shortage in the US.”
According to Pay Scale, the average monthly salary of a nurse in the Philippines is 10,146 PHP (about 228 USD). Meanwhile, the average wage of a Registered Nurse in the US is $26.65 an hour or about $320 for a 12-hour shift. Philippine nurses earn enough money just to survive. In comparison, American nurses provide comfortably for themselves and their families.
After nursing students finish school in the Philippines, very few of them end up pursuing a nursing career in the Philippine capital city of Manila. Those who do gain work experience in hopes of eventually immigrating to the US, Canada, or even Europe. With the promise of a generous salary and a life free of financial hardship, the US continues to capture the ambition of Filipino nurses. America is, after all, the land of milk and honey.
Filipino nurses in the US are also typically well-educated and fluent in English, making them a great fit for the American health care system. Plus, caring for the sick is deeply ingrained in the Filipino culture. As opposed to the Western practice of utilizing retirement homes and hospices, Filipinos are known to care for their sick and elderly relatives at home.
Filipinos and nursing: a century-old love story
As reported by Rodel Rodis, Filipino nurses have been caring for American patients since the turn of the 20th century, when the Philippines was first colonized by the US. Through the Pensionado Act of 1903, Filipinos were granted the opportunity to gain an education in nursing.
Since then, the number of nursing schools in the Philippines has risen from 17 to 429 and the Philippines remains the world’s largest supplier of foreign-trained nurses, according to Reuben Seguritan, general counsel of the Philippine Nurses Association of America.
Filipino nurses in New York
The Philippine Nurses Association was first founded in New York in 1929. Today, the association’s mission is “to promote the highest standards of professional nursing practice while advocating for the social, cultural and economic advancement of Filipino American nurses.” The association also hosts various events and conferences for members throughout the year.
Currently in New York State, there are 196,189 nurses for more than 19 million residents, as reported by the Bureau of Health Professions in 2013. The average salary of a nurse in New York is 23 percent higher than the US average, and the median salary of an entry-level nurse in the city is $68,000.
The Bureau also reported that “the Philippines contributed by far the highest number of individuals to the US pipeline of internationally educated nurses in 2010 — almost seven times that of South Korea, which ranked at number two.”
That’s 5,188 nurses from the Philippines, followed by 750 from South Korea, 640 from India, and 425 from Canada.
Of course, it’s not only about money
Despite the economic advantages of working in the US compared to the Philippines, Mary said her motivation to pursue a career in nursing — and many other nurses’ motivation throughout the country — had little to do with the money.
“Nursing is a profession of caring and helping people feel better in health and mind,” said Mary. “This is something that I would love to do. The job description in itself is what motivated me to want to be a part of the industry.”
Want to learn more about the Filipino culture in New York City? Visit New Women New Yorkers for more!
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