A Cultural Tradition of Caring: Filipino Americans in the Nursing Profession
Author Po Bronson, with whom I share a hometown and a high school, walked readers through the discovery of their professional paths in his 2002 New York Times bestseller, What Should I Do With My Life? I didn’t ask myself this question until my senior year in college and I still haven’t come up with a sufficiently satisfying answer. Meanwhile, I hold deep admiration and envy for those who have always known what their life’s work would be. The derivative trader, for example, who capitalized on a knack for math and threshold for risk, or the jazz saxophonist who discovered a passion for music at 11 and years later so inspired practiced for months in the solitude of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg Bridge.
Many factors inform our career decisions from family history to films, but what else orders our professional steps? StoryCorps participants Nerio Varon and Ave Lynne might add nationality. The two Filipino Americans provided some insight into the Filipino American tradition of nursing on a recent visit to the booth. Nerio, a current student at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, and Ave Lynne, a recent graduate, chatted about their experiences immigrating to the United States from the Phillipines, Ave Lynne’s new gig with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York and the advantages and disadvantages of working as a hospital nurse compared to a home care nurse. Early in their conversation, Nerio made reference to a tradition of nursing among Filipinos. I asked him and Ave Lynne to elaborate on an occupation so common in their community that it has a blog dedicated to it, Filipino Nursing Herald. Ave Lynne offered her thoughts.
Ave Lynne: It’s become a cultural thing. In the Philippines, it’s just like, “Oh yeah, take nursing ’cause when you go to America you’ll make a lot of money…I don’t know where it came from, where it originated. Maybe a lot of the women from the seventies, I think it started then. I don’t know. A lot of the women were taking nursing and I think they were recruiting at that time. America needed a lot of nurses and were recruiting a lot of nurses. So then it just kind of stuck.
Ave Lynne was right on the money. As Barbara Marquand reported for MinorityNurse.com, thousands of Filipino nurses came to the United States in the sixties and seventies making Filipinos “the number one source of foreign-trained nurses in the U.S.” Nerio elaborated:
“It became our stereotype. If you’re Filipino, you go to nursing school. People are always gonna be sick…You heard about companies, Fortune 5000 companies, firing people. I think medical is the way to go. You’re always gonna have jobs. And nursing especially with all the many fields. You can become a school nurse, you can go in the service, a whole variety of deifferent specialties. My classmates vary from 19 year olds to forty five year olds. They want to switch up their majors for that reason that they have a choice after they graduate whether they want to work in a hospital or home care or open up their own shop and become nurse practicioners. It’s a good thing.”
It’s hard to disagree.