Written by Jo Navales
Graphic by Catherine Liu
Growing up Filipino and being raised by two nurses, I was always familiar with the stereotype that many Filipinos are nurses, or want to become nurses. Knowing this at a young age always led me to wonder: Why are there so many Filipino nurses? Moreover, how has COVID-19 affected Filipino nurses?
The reason why Filipinos make up a large portion of nurses traces back to the US’ colonization of the Philippines. As a part of the US’ policy for colonization, they developed infrastructure such as educational institutes in the Philippines, which included the establishment of many nursing schools. These nursing schools trained Filipino students under Western medical practices and taught them in English. While the Philippines gained independence in 1946, Filipino nurses who were trained at these Westernized nursing schools were capable of working in US hospitals. To fill the demand in nursing jobs that Americans couldn’t fulfill, the US recruited Filipino nurses and allowed many to move outside of the Philippines. While many experienced exploitative practices and discrimination in the healthcare industry early in their arrival, Filipino nurses organized together to fight for better working conditions. Currently, Filipino nurses make up about one-third of foreign-born nurses working in the US, with many of them working in acute and critical care.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
Due to the large number of Filipino nurses present in the US during the pandemic, I also find it important to consider the consequences they may face working on the frontlines of healthcare in our current times. Filipino nurses working in the US have been devastated by the pandemic: According to National Nurses United, 30.1% of registered nurses who have died from COVID-19 in the US were Filipino despite only making up 4% of the US nursing workforce. Since many Filipino nurses work in critical care, their likelihood of being in close contact with COVID patients increases. This fact explains the disproportionate impact that COVID has had on Filipino nurses. The physical demand and mental stress caused by working in COVID units has led to many Filipino nurses taking a break from work to prevent burnout, or leaving the profession altogether.
As the pandemic continues and the future of public health remains unknown, we must continue to support, value, and appreciate our healthcare workers; many of whom are Filipino nurses providing care on the frontlines.