The past year has been incredibly challenging for healthcare workers all over the world. But while many were heavily impacted by the pandemic, it was also a time when real leadership and community service were given the spotlight.
One such leader who displayed real concern for others, and whose achievements in the healthcare profession serve only to make his community efforts stand out, is Jose Ariel Lañada. The Filipino nurse was recently hailed as UK’s Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Nurse of the Year in the National BAME Health and Care Awards.
According to an announcement published on the UK’s NHS website, Lañada “has been instrumental in supporting his colleagues and the Filipino community in Oxfordshire through what has been an extremely difficult period.”
The award was launched in 2019 by a group of volunteers from the health and care sector. It was in collaboration with Colourful Healthcare, “a not-for profit company dedicated to encouraging the aspirations and improving the professional development opportunities of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff in the health and care fields.”
Lañada, who’s been working as a nurse in the UK for a good 19 years, says the award is very humbling because there are about thousands of BAME workers all over UK—in England, Scotland, Northern Island, Wales—who are also deserving of the recognition.
The award, adds Lañada, is very meaningful especially since 2021 has been designated by the World Health Organization as the Year of Health and Care Workers (YHCW). “I am dedicating this award to all the Filipino nurses, all the BAME nurses all over the world who are at the frontlines, risking their lives to keep the healthcare service going and to be responsive to the needs of the people,” he tells ANCX. “I’m also dedicating this to our colleagues who died in the battlefield—those who cared for the Covid patients during this pandemic. They are also heroes that deserve to be recognized, and should never be forgotten.”
Lañada, an Ilonggo, is currently the Divisional Educational Lead for the Neurosciences, Orthopaedics, Trauma, Specialist Surgery, Children’s and Neonates Division at the Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) National Health Services (NHS) Foundation Trust.
Looking after one’s own
The 49-year-old Lañada previously served as an intensive care unit nurse for 11 ½ years at the Oxford University Hospitals (OUH). He was later promoted to lead the Diabetes Service to train specialist nurses. In 2016, he was assigned to his current post as Divisional Educational Lead where he is tasked to develop the competencies of newly qualified nurses, specialist nurses, and nurse consultants, ensuring they can provide the highest standard of patient care.
“[A Filipino nurse] needs to pass the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE), for [him or her] to become registered in the UK. I have been providing OSCE training preparations,” he says, adding that his passion really is career development, training, staff development. “I see my success in the success of my students and my staff.”
At the height of Covid-19 last year, the Master of Science in Nursing Education graduate spearheaded the training program on pandemic response for clinical practice educators. These educators in turn train the hospital’s 2,500 staff. He has also been providing clinical supervision to the nurses “because they are tired and their morale is low,” he says, noting Covid’s physical and psychological effects.
When 46 Filipino nurses got infected and had to go on quarantine last year, the Filipino Community of Oxfordshire (FilCom Oxford), of which Lañada is the chairman, delivered groceries to the homes of the healthcare workers. With the cooperation of the Oxford City Council and Oxford County Council, British local companies and hotels, and Filipino companies based in the UK, the group also distributed hot meals to healthcare workers at OUH for a period of four weeks.
But even before the pandemic, Lañada had already taken it upon himself to provide pastoral care to the BAME nurses. He says it’s because 19 years ago, he experienced how extremely difficult it was to adjust and adapt to a different culture, language, food, weather, and many other things.
“Whenever I would come home from work, close the door and the window of my small bedroom, that’s when homesickness kicked in. I suffered from separation anxiety,” Lañada recalls of his first year in the UK. He was in fact contemplating on going back home to the Philippines, but his manager suggested he go out with friends and have fun.
And that’s when he started to consciously develop close ties with other Filipinos, which was how the Filipino community of Oxfordshire was born. “It’s exactly the reason why I’ve been dedicating my life for almost 19 years now in community service, because I’ve been there and I know exactly how it felt being a stranger in paradise.”
The Filipino Nurses Association UK, on the other hand, of which he is also the president, provides support on the personal and professional development of Filipino nurses. Founded on July 2020, it serves as a forum for Filipino nurses in the UK to address specific issues and problems. As per its website, “FNA-UK is committed to promote equality, diversity, tolerance and inclusivity.
As the elected chairman of the BAME Staff Network in OUH, Lañada represents more or less 3,500 members of BAME staff. He happily notes that the recognition he got “sends a very strong message that UK is trying to make things better for BAME and non-BAME.”
Asked if he knew of people who had experienced any form of discrimination, unfair treatment or racism, he answers in the affirmative. But he says things are getting better. “There is no such thing as a perfect society— it doesn’t exist. But I think if all of us are doing our part, doing simple acts of kindness every day, there is no need to hurt or insult our fellow human beings. Synergy is the name of the game, coexistence.”
He also believes there are always two sides to every situation. “Sometimes people are overly sensitive, especially if they are stressed and tired, and communication could be misinterpreted. So it is important that we clarify things,” he says.
Teacher by heart
Lañada admits he never thought of becoming a nurse. What he really wanted was to become a teacher. But upon graduation in secondary school (he graduated as class valedictorian), he was offered a nursing scholarship at Iloilo’s Central Philippine University (CPU). Since nursing was then a popular course, and he needed the scholarship, he decided to pursue it.
After graduation, he worked at the Iloilo Mission Hospital for almost 10 years, working his way up to becoming a head nurse to nurse supervisor, and then was later on appointed as OIC Chief Nurse. But he didn’t stay in the post for long. The opportunity to work in and relocate to the United Kingdom came around.
When Lañada arrived in the UK, he had to start from the bottom—as healthcare assistant. “I didn’t regret my decision at all because I believe that if you want to reach the highest, you have to start from the lowest,” he says.
He was a healthcare assistant for six months until he qualified to become a registered nurse. Years of hard work led to a series of promotions. Completing his master’s degree in Nursing Education allowed him to finally pursue his dream of becoming a teacher. He now serves as an associate lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, and also as distant professor at the College of Nursing at CPU, his alma mater.
“I always tell my students, one broken dream is not the end of dreaming,” he shares. Now, I combine two disciplines—nursing and education.” And apparently, he’s not resting on his laurels yet—he is taking up his doctorate in education and is already an incoming third year.
Asked about his greatest learnings working in the UK for almost two decades, he mentions three things. First is the willingness to ask for and accept help. “To people who are struggling, my message is simple—ask for help. It’s okay to say ‘I am not okay.’ It’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s okay to say, ‘I’m sorry.’” He also stresses the importance of patience. “You don’t harvest the minute we plant, you have to invest and nurture.”
Second is tenacity—“the ability to keep going and to not give up. You must rest but don’t give up. Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”
Last is resilience. “I have been tested many, many times. But I never looked at those as failures, but as opportunities for growth and development,” he says. “If you are looking for problems, you will find problems, but if you are looking for solutions, you will find solutions. It’s all in the mindset and in the attitude as well.”
Photos courtesy of Jose Ariel Lañada