Nursing at the end of the earth

Theresa’s hands were trembling when she hung up the phone at a small company clinic in Zamboanga City. It was the call she had been waiting for. A call from a 20-bed hospital in an outback town in Australia. In-need of a nurse. As soon as possible.

The voice of the nursing supervisor reverberated in her head: “It’s a small healthcare facility and the town is not much bigger. And we need your help. Will you come and work for us?”

She dashed to the Internet café not far from her clinic. Theresa hardly blinked with what she saw on the screen: Welcome to Balranald, New South Wales. Wheats everywhere. Population: 1,500. Forget about clubs, cinemas and food courts. There’s an IGA, a local cooperative sort of general store, and the next Woolworths, the major grocery chain in the country, is one-hour away.

From Zamboanga to New South Wales

She breathed in and felt her palms sweating. “Would I go for it?” she thought. “Would I survive there?”

She made a decision. “At least it’s in Australia,” she reassured herself. “If I could survive the poverty in the Philippines, I would get over working in a remote area in Australia.”

She recalled that she was initially worried about her duties. “Would they be different from what she was doing in the Philippines? Would they be different from her practice? How about the people I would be working with? At that time, “I wasn’t exposed to a proper hospital setting yet.”

Flying from Zamboanga to Manila, then to Melbourne, the shy Filipina nurse hopped on a bus for a 15-hour journey to a town “so quiet, I could hear the chirping bird on the stalk of a swaying wheat grass on the side of the road.”

Had it just been two days since she was barging through the noisy streets of Zamboanga? Now, she is in a town so small, the only bank—the Commonwealth Bank—is serviced by a post office agent on the side of the road.

Despite all the challenges of the new environment, Theresa considered herself lucky. She is one of three siblings, the only daughter of Tirso and Victoria Lisondra of Zamboanga City who made it to working overseas and had the opportunity to earn dollars. She rejoiced at the possibility of being able to send lots of money home to augment the survival lifestyle of her family back home.


Actually, it was not Theresa’s first time in Australia. She had an AusAid Scholarship to study for a Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Newcastle, situated in a coastal town, two hours by car north of Sydney. While at the university, she practiced as a clinical nurse at the city’s John Hunter Hospital and the Mater Hospital.

After completing her degree in Australia she went home to practice her profession in the needy areas of this Southern Philippine city. She was shocked when she was told that her Australian nursing degree was not recognized in the Philippines!

“I fought with them,” she recalls. “I had studied for four years in a first world country and yet what I learned was not good enough for the Philippines! I was appalled!”

“To be recognized as a registered nurse in the Philippines I had to undergo two more years of studies and had to be working in a hospital setting. I wasn’t prepared to do that. At the back of my mind, I had plans to somehow find the means to go back to Australia.”

Theresa worked as a clinic nurse at a plywood processing company in Zamboanga, treating urgent cases, often wounded workers, for the equivalent of $6 Australian a day.

She just laughs about it now. She currently gets about $50 Australian (P1,900) an hour as weekend rate.

“And it was hard work at the clinic. You attend to wounded patients, apply first aid, call up a doctor, organize their transport to a bigger hospital if needed. It was quite full-on.”


In Balranald, Theresa got to do many things but it was not as busy. “I had to do physiotherapy, blood letting and collection, injections, cannula application, time management, being in-charge of the ward, among other things. But I got to rest as well.

“The hospital staff was very helpful to me. I was in a small town with people of big hearts.”

But she got bored. “When I asked my supervisor if there was a Filipino community in town, she gave the name of the local pharmacist who, she suspected, is married to a Filipina. She was right: the pharmacist’s wife was the only Filipino in town!

“When I attended Sunday mass, I found another Filipina. They didn’t even know each other. I had to introduce them. Apparently, they just liked to stay indoors because they feared their skin would get dark from the sun!”


Balranald Hospital is managed by the Far West Area Health Service, whose clients and patients are predominantly farmers and people from the aboriginal communities.

“The color of my patients’ skin doesn’t matter to me,” Theresa states. When I help, I help genuinely and that’s what drives me as a nurse. It’s so rewarding to be able to help someone, seeing them get better.”

As in any profession, she faces challenges in her job. One time she had to collect blood from a drunken patient. “The needle wobbled as his arm shook. It was scary,” she recalls.

“There were also times when my patient’s family would ask for another nurse even if I was already there in the room with them. I felt degraded and belittled. I suspect some Caucasians think that because I’m Asian I’m not good enough.

“So I would approach them proudly and confidently and, with a smile, ask if there was anything I could do to help. I wanted to show them I’m just as qualified as the other nurses. They then got pretty friendly and I was happy to be able to help them well.”

Stepping stone

A year after she got to Balranald, Theresa was able to buy her own car. She drove to the cities and decided to transfer to the coastal and cosmopolitan cities of the east coast of Australia.

She went back to working at John Hunter Hospital and the Mater Private Hospital in the same city where she got her nursing degree. She felt quite at home there, with acquaintances from her university days. There were also plenty of Filipinos, one of the fastest growing migrant groups in Australia.

Eventually, Theresa decided to see more of the vast continent so she signed up for assignment at needy hospitals in rural areas. Being single and free, she hopped from one city to the next, including Hervey Bay and Rockhampton, dubbed as the gateway to the famous Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. She also worked in small New South Wales towns, including Denman (pop. about 1,500) and Yeoval (pop. 450). Today she works in Canberra, the nation’s capital, with a population of over 320,000.

Theresa is now an Australian citizen. She hasn’t forgotten that it was Balranald that gave her the opportunity to work and live in Australia. If another chance comes up for her to return to a quiet place like Balranald, she would do it, she says. In a small town, she can save and send more money home to her family in Zamboanga.

For Filipino nurses who want to try their luck in Australia, Theresa encourages them to apply online through career websites, such as and seek., like she did. She says it’s easy for other Filipino nurses to have their degrees updated and work as registered nurses in Australia. Salaries can reach up to $65,000 Australian a year. Those with degrees other than nursing can also have their previous studies assessed by the National Office for Overseas Recognition or NOOSR.

“It’s easier to study nursing in Australia than in the Philippines. Students in Australia are given tasks to study or practice, or only have to write an essay to complete a subject. Students in the Philippines are given exams every week or every two weeks. That’s very exhausting.”

As for her social life, Theresa says she seldom meets men her age. She surmises that they could be hanging out in pubs, which are not her scene at all. “I think I’m really destined for a Filipino guy,” she says.

But first things first. This year, Theresa hopes to be able to bring her mother for a visit. “I want to show Mamang the beautiful places in Australia. I’ll think she’ll enjoy them all.”

About the author
Erwin Cabucos, writes for Bayanihan News in Australia and contributes to Filipinas Magazine on the side. His new book, Green Blood and Other Stories, will be released in Sydney and Manila this month.

Find more like this: Australia, Features

5 Responses to Nursing at the end of the earth

  • ryan carlo a medrozo says:

    Hi Theresa,

    Im at awed with your story, im amazed how you got your chance to work in Australia, well i wanna follow your footsteps i had worked as a company nurse here in the philippines but i dont have any hospital experience. I wanna work abroad for greener pasture and to help my family here in the philippines, what can you advise me to do? hoping for your reply soon..

  • Nurseneng69 says:

    Hi Ryan Carlo,

    I am a Thai nurse working in Tasmania, Australia. I did my Bachelor of Nursing in New Zealand during 2005-2007. I have got my degree at the end of November last year and have got 8 job offers from hospitals in New Zealand and Australia. Some hospitals in Australia also offered the sponsor of working visa in Australia.

    Anyway, there is great job opportunity in Australia and nurses from Philippines are welcomed to work here. There many asian nurses working in Australia..including the one where I am now working. I am working in the operating theatre and there is a Filipino nurse working there as well.

    I would suggest you have a look for the information from the websote and apply for a job ONLINE. Use google search for “Graduate Nurse Program – South Australia” (and change to other state..for example that you apply for several jobs. The registered nurse base salary in South Australia Grade 1/Year 1 starts at $45,400 p.a., 6 weeks paid vacation for shift work, 12 additional off day per year. You will get extra money working on night shift, Saturdays/Sundays, and much more if you work on public holidays.

    By the way, if your degree is earned from the Philippines, you will need to write IELTS (Academic Module) and achieve the score overall band of 7.0, and you may need to write a nurse examination before you will be granted the licence to practice in that particular state of Australia.

    Anyway, good luck with your quest.


  • flor says:

    Hi Theresa I am surfing the net looking for zamboangueno community here in sydney when i stumble upon your story, dol makatriste man gayot alli he he broma lang. Lehos ba gayot se na sydney anda kame alli visita.

  • jenny says:

    Wow! very well said Ma’am Nurseneng69, If i am given the opportunity to work in australia I think that will be great…Im a Registered Nurse in Zamboanga City 24 y.o and presently I’m on my volunteer training at ZCMC..Hope I can be as lucky as you guys who have the chance to work in autralia and earn much… I’m eager to save money din…hope you could email me for more info on how I could work there safely and efficiently…Ma’am Theresa I’m amaze with your story, very nice journey…

  • Anthony Reario RN says:

    Truly! I wish i could be as lucky as you are!!!

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