Editorial: ‘Unpatriotic’ Filipino nurses

The Philippines had a shortage of 106,000 nurses and other healthcare workers as of October 2022, according to the Department of Health’s report. This lack of manpower in the health sector cannot be solved by pleading to the Filipino nurses not to go abroad right away and serve their home country first.

Filipino nurses have families to support, and they are not unpatriotic if they choose to work in other countries that offer better pay. They are just like other jobseekers—if the greener pasture is not found in the Philippines, they would seek it elsewhere.

The Filipino nurses who are working overseas cannot be called unpatriotic. They are a big help to the Philippine economy with their remittances, just like other overseas Filipino workers.

True, the Covid-19 pandemic has “proven that the country needs nurses,” said Rolly Villarin, vice president for programs and development of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) Cebu chapter, after the oath-taking ceremony of over 1,600 newly registered nurses in Cebu City on Jan. 28, 2023. The nurses were among the more than 18,000 passers of the November 2022 Professional Nursing Licensure Examination.

Villarin urged the new nurses to hone their skills in the Philippines and “hopefully they will not be encouraged to work abroad.”

The sad reality, however, is that there are Filipino nurses who really hone their skills here, and they apply for work abroad after gaining enough experience. And this could be blamed on their pay.

The median pay of nurses in America was $77,600 per annum in 2021, according to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quezon City Rep. Marvin Rillo said in a November 2022 press statement.

The pay is equal to P4.2 million at the prevailing $1 to P54.58 exchange rate.

Rillo reported that a total of 12,399 nursing graduates from the Philippines took the United States licensure examination for the first time from January to September 2022, in hopes of practicing their profession in the North American country. The number of Filipino nurses seeking employment in the US is staggering, even though not all of them passed the exam.

Rillo authored House Bill (HB) 5276, which seeks to revise the minimum base monthly pay of nurses employed by the Philippine government from P36,619 to P63,997 to prevent them from going abroad.

In Cebu, nurses in private hospitals are reportedly paid P16,000 to P20,000 a month, while nurses in government hospitals are paid P32,000 to P33,000.

Cebuano lawmaker Rep. Eduardo Rama Jr. (Cebu City, 2nd District) has filed HB 4609, or the Magna Carta of Private Health Workers, which seeks to increase the pay and grant benefits to private healthcare workers, including nurses.

The two House bills need urgent attention from lawmakers who must act before the problem of healthcare worker shortage becomes severe and the country’s public health system breaks down. God forbid.