South Central Edition
A Proud Nursing Heritage
Focus on the Philippines
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Back row left to right: Luz Reyes, RN; Thelma Puspos, RN; Jaime Puspos, RN; Elenita Bautista-Malicse, RN; Nena Bonuel, RN; Eufemia Chua, RN; Harley Tuble, RN. Middle row: Cherry Sloan-Medrano, RN; Danilo Lindog, RN; Gloria Beriones, RN, president, PNAMH; Merlita Velasquez, RN. Front row: Gerlina Long, RN; Vicky Lagrimas, RN; Hermie Carreon, RN.Merlita Velasquez, RN, BSN, a Houston nurse who owns two nursing-related companies, is like a lot of Filipino nurses who come to the U.S. to work. She wanted to to help support her family in the Philippines by working at a job earning 10 to 20 times more than what she would have been paid back home.She lasted only a year and a half. It wasn’t that she couldn’t keep up with American-trained nurses or that patients didn’t like having a Filipino nurse. Quite the contrary. Velasquez returned to the Philippines because she had left her husband and three children behind, including an infant who was only six months old when she left.That any mother would leave her children behind, especially at such young ages, points to how troubled the Philippine
economy is and how desperate Filipinos are to give their families a better life.Pool of eager talentIt also points to an eager source of well-trained nurses who could help alleviate the nursing shortage, provided the U.S. health care industry, politicians, and the general public are willing to accept them.Velasquez’s 18-month stint in the 1960s wasn’t her last in the U.S. She worked here a second time between 1975 and 1977 before returning for good in 1982 — this time with her entire family — to California. She now lives in Houston, where she owns and operates a nursing home and a home health business.“It’s a better program, a better life, than staying in the Philippines,” says Velasquez, explaining her family’s desire to move to the U.S. It’s also a good way to help one’s family in the Philippines, which has a long history of relying on remittances from relatives working in other countries.Remittances — the term for sending money back to one’s home country — represent about 11% of the Philippines’ gross domestic product. Filipino nursing schools have, in the past at least, graduated more nurses than the country can use and countries with nursing shortages have turned to the Philippines for decades for help in meeting their staffing needs.Eileen DeCesare, RN, MS, CNAA, LNC, president and owner of Professional Healthcare Resources International, an Annandale, Va., company that recruits foreign nurses, says Filipino nurses have been coming to the U.S. since the 1950s. U.S. hospitals, she says, have welcomed them for a variety of reasons.The most important is that the nursing curriculum taught in the Philippines most closely resembles that taught in the U.S., she says, adding that books used in Filipino nursing schools are the same ones used in U.S. nursing schools.Another factor in Filipinos’ favor is the fact that they speak English, which is taught in the Philippines from an early age. That gives them a distinct advantage over nurses from other countries known to send nurses to the U.S. — Japan, Korea and India.“The training and experience we have in the Philippines are very marketable in the U.S.,” says DeCesare, who also owns four home health companies and employs 500 people.Getting savvy with equipmentThe only area in which nurses from the Philippines fall short, she says, is familiarity with equipment used in the U.S. At least one U.S. university is helping address that shortcoming.Nashville, Tenn.’s Vanderbilt University is collaborating with MedLink International, an international health care recruiting and placement firm that specializes in RNs, to provide curriculum content for a training program taken by nurses in the Philippines that MedLink has recruited to work in the U.S. The Vanderbilt course curriculum provides instruction on current U.S. nursing practice to prepare Philippine nurses for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), the licensing exam developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The Vanderbilt curriculum includes instruction on how to use equipment commonly found in U.S. hospitals with the ultimate goal of improving skills and ensuring patient safety.Linda Norman, RN, DSN, senior associate dean for academics at Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing, says the training program is given to nurses before their arrival in the U.S. using CDs, other media, and facilitators.She emphasizes that Vanderbilt is not involved in recruiting foreign nurses and that nurses who complete the MedLink program receive no academic credit from the university. Norman says the university has been approached in the past by recruiting companies asking them to provide the NCLEX-RN exam to recruits. Vanderbilt declined, she says, because it does not get involved in recruiting foreign nurses. The difference in the MedLink proposal, she says, is that it’s designed to help Filipino nurses make a better transition to the U.S. health care system, which ultimately benefits nursing care and patient safety.