Nurses dream of lucrative overseas jobs

By Girlie Linao
Manila – The 18-year-old co-ed still has two years to go before she graduates from one of the Philippines’ top nursing colleges, but she already knows where she wants to work.

“Israel,” she said when asked where she will practice once she graduates and passes the nursing licensure exam. “My father works there as a software technician, and it’s been our plan ever since that I also work there.”

A friend sitting nearby volunteered that she wants to work as a nurse in France, and eventually become a forensics professional after saving money. “I can also go to the United States, where I have relatives,” she added. “That way, I can save more money.”

The two friends are among tens of thousands of nursing students in the Philippines who dream of landing high-paying jobs overseas after graduating. Nursing has become so lucrative that even doctors are studying to become nurses to go abroad, where they can earn as much as 10 times more than some physicians in the Philippines.

Maria Rowena Esguerra, administrative director of the Manila Doctors College, a top nursing school in the Philippines, said Filipino nurses can earn as much as 250,000 pesos ($6,250) a month abroad. “Compare that to 10,000 pesos to 15,000 pesos a month here in the Philippines,” she said. “The pay is really so much better.”

Esguerra said Filipino nurses are now one of the country’s top exports amid the continuing international demand. “We nurse the world,” she said, echoing the school’s slogan. “Filipino nurses are in demand because they always do their jobs with a smile. We also make sure that they get good training before they go abroad.”

In 2006, more than 13,500 nurses left the Philippines to work abroad, up from 10,700 in 2005 and 8,500 the year before, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. A labour organisation estimated that the number of Filipino nurses who found jobs overseas increased to about 20,000 last year. The top destinations include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Britain, Taiwan and Singapore. At the Manila Doctors College, 95 per cent of its more than 4,000 students plan to go abroad as soon as they can, Esguerra said.

“Most students really want to go to other countries,” she said. “They take up nursing because it is their ticket abroad.” While the employment of Filipino nurses and doctors abroad help boost the local economy and ease unemployment in the Philippines, the exodus is already straining public health services in a country where the doctor-to-population ratio is a low 1 to 26,000. “The shortage in the country will only get worse because of the international demand for Filipino nurses,” said Joseph Aricheta, a 50-year-old doctor who studied to be a nurse and is now teaching at the Manila Doctors College.

“Many villages in the Philippines already lack doctors and nurses, and the best are still going out,” the father of three added. “The government should do something about it, perhaps they can raise their salaries.”

Aricheta had worked as a private physician and a public health officer for almost two decades before deciding in 2003 to take up nursing to boost his income. He studied on the weekends, while working in government. In 2006, he accepted a teaching job at the Manila Doctors College while waiting for a good opportunity abroad. His eldest daughter is now in college and taking up nursing. A son will graduate from high school soon and is still deciding on what course to take in college. Asked if he would advise his son to take up nursing, Aricheta said, “It depends. If he wants to be rich, then he should take up nursing and go abroad. But if he wants to serve, then he should be a doctor and stay as a doctor.”

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