Politics

[B-SIDE Podcast] Filipino nurses: Heroes who can’t afford houses

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Hailed by the Duterte and Marcos administrations as the country’s new heroes—mga bagong bayani—nurses bore the brunt of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic along with doctors and other frontliners. 

In this B-Side episode, Monina A. Hernandez, a clinical nurse specialist who left the Philippines, talks to BusinessWorld reporter Patricia B. Mirasol about why Filipino nurses leave and what the government might do to make them stay. “We are human beings. We have needs. Raise the salary of nurses [so it can] address the need for commodities and housing,” said Ms. Hernandez.

TAKEAWAYS  

There are myriad reasons Filipino nurses leave, including financial and historical.

Compensation is the most obvious reason nurses leave. “The monthly salary of nurses in the Philippines is less than a week’s salary of nurses in New Zealand and Australia,” Ms. Hernandez, who founded the Filipino Nurses Association of New Zealand, Inc.

The entry-level salaries of nurses in private Philippine hospitals range from P12,500 to P16,000 a month. Mid-level registered nurses in the Philippines are the lowest paid as compared to their counterparts in Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Indonesia. 

Beyond socioeconomic factors, Ms. Hernandez cited the Philippines’ colonial past. The country’s history as an American colony has made migration appealing, she said. (In 2019, one out of 20 registered nurses in the US was trained in the Philippines.)  

The Philippine education system, she added, is “indirectly or directly … pushing kids out of the country.” 

That greener pastures are found beyond local shores is “ingrained as early as high school,” she said. 

There are enough nursing graduates but not enough jobs that pay a living wage. 

A chunk of nursing graduates who are still in the country aren’t practicing because there are other jobs that pay more, said Ms. Hernandez. Instead of joining the medical field, they opt to teach or take call center jobs.

“The first thing the government should do is create nursing positions for these nurses,” she said. “It’s a matter of the government prioritizing health, so they can attend to the health needs of the entire country.” 

Recorded remotely December 2022. Produced by Joseph Emmanuel L. Garcia and Sam L. Marcelo.

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Read the related story: “Preparing the public health system for the next pandemic”