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CAREER SPOTLIGHT: Edmund Tabay, First Filipino Director of Nursing in the UK’s NHS

Updated: May 15, 2022

Edmund Tabay is the first Filipino nurse to hold a top nursing directorship role in the NHS. As Filipino nurses, we cannot help but feel inspired and proud of him achieving his position. In the UK, as of 2021, the Philippines provide the biggest number of Overseas Nurses according to the National Audit Office. However there have not been many who were able to progress to the top.

We did a short interview to get to know Edmund Tabay (ET) more and learn from his career journey. Most importantly we asked his views on important issues faced by Filipino nurses.

When you started your career in the UK, was being a nursing director part of your career goal?

ET: I admit that when I first started, I never thought that I would reach this post. Back then, all I wanted was to become an advanced practitioner or a nurse consultant. Being a manager was not part of my goals. Being an overseas nurse, I felt that it would be very difficult managing people. I even said to one of my very first mentors “Sister, I don’t think I can do your job… and I never intend to.” But I was surprised with her response “You know Edmund, things could change. Don’t say that, at this point.” I learned to be open to possibilities and take on opportunities.

My journey as an overseas nurse was not easy and not what I initially envisioned it to be. In every position I took, I would always ask myself—why do I want this role? For me I had to continuously re-assess my own intentions and goals. Knowing my whys gave me a solid and steady push forward.

What would be the best career advice you have received?

ET: I have been fortunate to have met and worked with great nurse leaders to whom I drew my inspiration and guidance from. The one great advice that helped me throughout my nursing career was from one of my mentors who said, “Whatever you do in the future, don't forget the core values of the nursing profession.” It became my guiding principle and has helped me in my role not just as a nurse but also a leader in the healthcare industry.

We have also asked Edmund his views on few of the most common issues faced by Filipino nurses in the UK.

What is your take on Filipinos not being able to speak up or communicate well to patients or colleagues?

ET: Communication is of paramount importance for us, nurses. We deal with a lot of people- from patients, their families, colleagues and the wider community. I think we undervalue ourselves. We fear that we may sound funny or people will hear us differently or the perception would be different. I think it’s about having the confidence, being self-aware, and knowing how to listen.

How about Filipino Nurses being too agreeable, saying YES all the time?

ET: Aside from not speaking up, another pitfall observed, especially for new overseas nurses, was our habit of saying YES all the time. Probably because we were used to the work culture back in the Philippines where nurses are seen as 2nd class professionals compared to doctors. I always say. “We need to move away from this mentality and appreciate that we are equals with other health care professionals.” Saying YES all the time or not speaking up can have grave consequences. It can lead to poor decisions in care or can be abused by people around you. We need to recognise that we are skilled professionals and not feel intimidated of the people we work with regardless of their position, race and age. Knowing how to communicate effectively can also result to better working relationship with others and most importantly – better care for patients.

How do you think we should deal with Bullying & Discrimination in the Workplace, especially for our new Filipino Nurses arriving in the UK?

ET: I acknowledge that these issues still exist and can be destructive. Nowadays however, we are very lucky as there are more avenues or groups that provide support or help to individuals who experiencing bullying & discrimination. Make use of these groups. Join and speak with them.

But most importantly, I encourage those who face these issues to speak to their ward or line manager or even to the Senior Management. There are also freedom to speak up champions for most trusts and organisations and some may not be aware of these individuals. They may come from different backgrounds, but they share the same sentiments and vision. The freedom to speak up champions are there to help anyone who feels bullied at work.

I am more than happy for people to speak with me if they have concerns or if they feel they are being bullied.

What does the future hold for Mr Edmund Tabay?

ET: Every day is a learning opportunity for me. Since I have just started with my new role as the Director of Nursing, I want to maximise the current opportunity and be the best at this role. I would not know yet what my next step will be but certainly that I would stay first and foremost in a Nursing role. I am and will always be a nurse.

What’s your advice to fellow Filipino nurses including those who are aspiring to reach Senior roles like yours?

ET: Having good working relationship is really important not just for this role but in any nursing role. You may be the best or the most skilful nurse in the world, but your skills won’t matter if you don’t know how to work with others.

Know your Whys, what you can & cannot do. Being a nurse is a very challenging role. It’s important that you know and understand why you want this job. Progressing your nursing career should not only be because of the position nor the salary. You have to consider a lot of things and have a strong reason why this is a role you want to aspire for. Know yourself too—what your capabilities and limitations are. You have to be true to yourself. I have to admit I am ambitious and this has helped me reach where I am now. In each of the goals I have, I do a self-assessment. Do I have these capabilities and skills to do this role? What are my limitations? From there, I would work on the areas that I need and felt lacking. Build not just your educational qualifications but your personal skills as well.

Lastly, Remember & live the core values of the Nursing profession. Always.

We hope that as Edmund blazes the trail for all of of the Filipino UK Nurses, may all of us be inspired and aspire to be the best that we can be in our nursing careers. As Edmund said, we should know our whys and find our own motivation. Even though he may be the first Filipino Nursing Director in the NHS, we hope he would not be the last. Many consider that we Filipino Nurses are the world’s best nurses, and the best can always be better.


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