Where are the Nurses?

by Anna Maria Acorda Kapunan

Posted at Sep 01 2012 09:59 PM | Updated as of Sep 02 2012 05:59 AM

“It’s more safe in the Philippines.”

That should be the slogan of Department of Tourism because of the hundreds of thousands of Nurses that tourists may encounter when they visit the country. They need not worry if they have heart attack, stroke, or diabetic attack, because for sure in any unholy or unexpected places be it in a mall, a tricycle terminal, on a jeepney or in the heavenly shores of Boracay, somebody will ask them "Hey, hey, hey are you okay?"
In the data of Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) as of this year, there are around 700,000 Registered Nurses in their record excluding 27,000 Nurses who just passed the recent Board exams. Among the 700,000 licensed holders, 100,000 are estimated to be working around the world as OFW and a staggering 400,000 or more are unemployed. The remaining few are working but not in the line of nursing (like call center agents, pre school teachers, real estate agents, waiter, waiters, salesman and saleslady among others).
I tried to look back as to how this hulabaloo started. Frankly, I got confused tracing back how it all began. How in the world can we have so many nurses in the Philippines??? If I may, let us go back to the year 2000 when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo started to promote nursing as a gateway to the US to seek for the proverbial greener pastures in the so-called “land of milk and honey”, and by that, I am not referring to Israel or the Promised Land.
The second wave of Nurse Immigrants had started. The exodus to the United States was the answer to the growing need of a comfortable life that these islands cannot offer. As a result, nursing schools sprouted in just about every corner of the streets that you can think of. For the first time, the clinical instructors were earning so much because of the influx of enrollees. Every school that wanted to earn big moolah offered BS Nursing. For a while Nursing was the milking cow of the academe. Parents who dreamed of a better life for their offspring whether female, male, gay or homosexual prioritized Nursing. Awww, never mind if their heart is not into it, we just have to be practical these days. Nursing is the key to the USA.
So every one depended on Uncle Sam’s job opportunities. However, the 2011 World Trade attack resulted in a massive, worldwide, all-out war versus terrorism. Nobody ever expected the Great America would come into recession. Thereafter, US stopped the migration of Nurses to their country.
 Poor Philippines. They relied on the promise of a new hope from a foreign land. Pity the parents who sold the last livestock and mortgaged the remaining piece of land that they own.  Neneng, Totoy, Becky and Butch are left unemployed, unproductive and miserable. The departments and agencies of government  (like DOH, CHED, PRC as well as the schools that profited) involved in the problem are left passing the buck. The Department of Health (DOH) COULD NOT THINK of any solution except to open volunteer programs for the hospitals to employ nurses. Since Nursing is a SERVICE occupation, hospitals might as well take advantage of this SERVICE and Nurses can and should render this for FREE.  Good thinking.
Ahhh, the department that is tasked to uphold and protect the rights of the health workers seems to turn a blind eye on the plight of the very workers that make the department and its programs work. There is no solution that they can think of because according to them, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) did not approve the opening of plantilla positions for nurses in government.  Hence, a brilliant band-aid solution cum idea, with the coordination of the different government agencies  -DOH, Department of  Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Social Welfare development (DSWD),  Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), provided a silver lining to the Nursing profession and thus, RN HEALS was born. In the said program Nurses are to receive a allowance of 8,000 per month plus 2,000 stipend from the Local government Unit (LGU) of the community that they are serving, a far cry from the Salary Grade 15 mandated by the Nursing Law (RA 9173). The Nurses complied fully, setting aside the issue of salary or safety, and bore in their hearts and minds the SERVICE that they promised to the profession and the people.
Hundreds and thousands of Nurses go through the common problems of unemployment, underemployment, contractualization, underpayment of salaries and inhumane working hours. Numerous have complained and protested, but none had the guts to come out and make him or herself public. Nobody had the nerve to sign their names in the complaint letter because of FEAR and HOPELESSNESS. Fear that the same department who should protect them will turn the tables on them, and hopelessness in their predicament.

Should Nurses accept the reality that a SERVICE PROFESSION will be paid pro-bono through out one’s entire career???  Perhaps I have found the answer to this question. As DOH claimed that there is a clamor for Nurses to work in the hospitals for FREE in exchange of a CERTIFICATE OF APPRECIATION for the service rendered. I salute these Nurses then. They should be given the Florence Nightingale Award. I respect you more than the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) workers who faced the camera and threatened to go on strike for the benefits that they did not receive.
Volunteerism is a noble act. Trust me, I do that all the time for charities and organizations I believe in. But if a program of Volunteerism is used to benefit a department to save its funds meant for capital budget, I think DOH should have more political will to find the solutions to this long standing issue. Since there is a shortage of Nurses in the hospitals, why can’t we open positions first before opening a slot for volunteerism? I heard of an action for ‘Mandamus’ coming from friends in the legal profession. I wonder why DOH cannot file a petition before DBM if truly DOH cares for its workers?
My spirit is vexed. It seems the department that we are dealing with is apathetic to what we are appealing for. But it pains me more when I see Nurses accepting the abuses.
I’ve asked myself why am I active in this campaign? Clearly, I do not benefit from this because I could do so much more and have more fun doing other things that interests me. I will not earn here. But I have realized that I love the Philippines so much and I love the Filipinos even more. If all the Nurses are given a slot in the hospitals, following the Nurse Patient ratio (1:12) and deployed in the communities for primary health care then, maybe, just maybe, we can see a more developed country because its constituents are well and healthy.
Nurses, you have the POWER to stand for your RIGHT, to earn a living, to be given a decent salary and to have a work place conducive to professional development. We are his BOSSES. Let us demand what is RIGHTFULLY OURS. The promised “Tuwid na Daan” does not exempt anyone and I hope in the near future the DOH will exemplify in its policies, projects and programs the assurance of our DEAR President.