This is a video published by Vox on Youtube. It answers the question of why the US has so many Filipino nurses. But, aside from that question, it also sheds light on why, with the capabilities of the Philippines to produce a large number of professional nurses, still fall short of nursing staff in their own country.
The video is the best representation of the irony of what’s currently happening to the Philippines and the rest of the world regarding nursing shortages. The video started with a rich history of how Filipino nurses could have the qualities and skills of top-notch nursing craftsmanship. Since the beginning of their nursing programs, it was already based on the standards of western practice as the Americans were the ones who trained the Filipinos with the craft in the first place.
The export of nurses in the US started after the 2nd World War when the US experienced a shortage of nursing staff in their hospitals. Hence, they created a “temporary visitors program” as a solution to acquire nurses from the Philippines. What added to this event was the fact that professional nurses in the Philippines were earning less than janitors and messengers during those times. So these situations pushed nurses to venture into the west for a chance of a more decent wage.
Fast forward to the ’60s, Medicaid and Medicare programs started in the U.S. The series of events during this decade led to an increased demand for nurses, leading to even more nursing shortages. This then pushed the U.S. to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act, which opened the doors to people worldwide to apply for immigrant visas. Labor recruiters and travel agencies quickly grabbed this opportunity to urge more nurses in the Philippines to work there with ads that promised nurses a better life in the United States.
As the years of continuous migration of Filipino nurses to the US went on, there came a point when the Philippine economy went down during the ’80s due to the chaos that had happened within the government. Unemployment skyrocketed as the Philippines crumbled into a recession in 1986.
To address this problem, labour export was encouraged to countries throughout the world; that’s because the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) remits hundreds of millions of dollars back to the country, which helped the Philippines’ economy to stabilize. Over time, as their government actively promotes the global migration of Filipinos, the Philippines eventually became the largest exporter of Nurses throughout the world, with nearly 20,000 nurses leaving every year.
So where’s the shortage coming from, both in the U.S. and the Philippines, if the U.S. is always willing to accept Filipino workers and the Philippines actively supporting nursing export? The answer lies with the large number of Filipino nurses dying due to the current global pandemic. According to surveys, a large number of Filipino nurses are concentrated in acute and critical care, which means that a lot of Filipino nurses are disproportionately put on the frontlines of the fight against coronavirus. This is one of the factors why the Philippine government mandated a temporary ban for health care workers to leave.
As of May 2020, out of 318 health workers who have lost their lives due to the coronavirus, 30 are Filipinos. While it seems that their current administration made the right decision of limiting Filipino nurses to work overseas for their safety, it still did not work to the advantage of both the Philippines and the Filipino nurses.
Because as history stated, the nurses were poorly compensated in their motherland. It seems like not very much has changed until the present time – nurses are still receiving meagre salaries up until this day here in the Philippines. Hence, Filipino nurses would very much prefer to work abroad than work in their own country. For these brave Filipino nurses, if they’re going to risk their lives fighting this deadly pandemic, they might as well do it with proper compensation, not for them, but for the families that they leave behind.