Philippines is nursing a crisis

By Mata Press Service


Alicia Cortez sips her coffee at the Tim Hortons outside a Vancouver area hospital as she prepares for her daily skype session with her children in Manila, halfway around the world.

“I try to talk to them every day,” said the Filipino nurse, who has been in Canada, first in Toronto and now in Vancouver, for the past eight years.

“It’s a tough life being away from your children, but what I get paid here makes up for that…I go home every year to be with them,” said Cortez.

Like the thousands of Filipino nurses who staff Canada’s medical facilities, Cortez left her homeland, because of low wages and “contractual work” without benefits, which has created a medical crisis in the Philippines.

According to data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), 92,277 nurses have left the country to work abroad since 2012. That's almost 19,000 nurses leaving every year.

This month, alarmed by the brain drain, The Philippines Department of Budget and Management’s 2018 National Expenditure Program, said there are over 20,101 vacant positions for government health workers, mostly nurses.

Filipino Nurses United convenor Eleanor Nolasco said that the promise of a high salary abroad, in contrast with the low wages in the Philippines, is a major push factor for our nurses to leave.

Until decent salaries are given, our nurses will be forced to leave, Nolasco said.

For years, Nolasco and their group have been calling for the government to raise the minimum wage for starting nurses to at least P25,000 a month (about C$600), an amount that she says is not even that big nowadays considering current costs of living.

A starting salary for a nurse in Canada, is around $5,000. That's a dozen times more than the starting wage for nurses in the Philippines.

According to's 2016 Overseas Salary Report, healthcare remains to be the paying specialization for overseas Filipino workers, with OFWs in the industry getting an average of P111,620 per month.

It’s also the top paying specialization for the high-paying countries of deployment like Canada and New Zealand.

Robert Mendoza, president of The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) said contractual medical sector employees in the Philippines, like nurses, do not receive the benefits enjoyed by regular employees, such as 13th month pay and hazard pay.

The lack of human resources, said Mendoza, definitely affects the delivery of quality health care to patients. The ideal nurse to patient ratio, according to the Philippines Department of Health, is 1:12, but this is hardly true in many hospitals.

In Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, the nurse to patient ratio in the male surgical ward is 2:59. The ratio is 2:64 in the women surgical ward, as well as the stroke unit.

Edwin Pacheco, president of the National Kidney Transplant and Institute (NKTI) employee’s association, said that nurses have been leaving their hospital due to massive contractualization.

“Nurses are hired as contractuals, and it will take about eight years or more for them to become regular employees,” Pacheco said.

In NKTI, in a regular ward where there are 25 to 35 patients, there are only two nurses who are on duty.

“If one patient is critical, a nurse has to pay close attention to that patient so that he would not die. But with fewer nurses on duty, they cannot do that because they have to look after the other patients,” he said.

The emergency department, which receives about 100 patients a day, only has four to five nurses.

He added that these contractual nurses also work overtime but without a pay; they work in a hazardous workplace but do not receive hazard pay. Contracuals also do not have the right to join the union, said Pacheco.

While the Philippines, continues to struggle with its nursing shortage, countries like Canada

are encouraging the nurses to migrate.

The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) has predicted that Canada would be in need of at least 60,000 nurses by 2020 to fill the labor shortage.

Tony Burke, vice president of the OMNI College of Nursing said the best and most effective way to address this gap is to hire internationally educated nurses such as those from the Philippines.

 “The Canadian government has called the nursing shortage a crisis,” he said at the sidelines of the first Canada Nursing Expo in Cebu City earlier this year.

With the average age of 55 for Canadian nurses, which is also the country’s retirable age, Canada is most likely going to lose half of its nursing workforce to retirement in one to two years.

Burke said Canada’s aging population requires more nurses to take care of the elderly, but Canadian universities just can’t produce Canadian-trained nurses fast enough.

However, other countries such as Canada do not recognize nursing education in the Philippines and, therefore, would imply that Filipino nurses in Canada are technically not nurses unless they acquire a Canadian nursing license.

Vancouver-based OMNI College of Nursing specializes in training internationally educated nurses in getting skills required to meet Canadian standards as well as language in preparation for the Canadian Nursing Licensure Exam.

Burke said the Philippines is OMNI’s second top market, neck and neck in terms of number with India; but what sets Filipino nurses apart from their Indian counterparts is the former’s ability to adjust wherever they go.

“Filipinos, anywhere they go, they make it and they’re successful. Filipino nurses and Indian nurses both have really good training and experience, but adapting is the biggest difference,” said Burke.

– with agencies

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