Updated: Sep 6, 2021
By Nurse M
Nursing was not my first choice. Truth be told, It was not even one of my options when I was entering college. I always wanted to become a professional photographer, travel places and capture the nature’s beauty. I can still remember the excitement I felt when I learned that I passed the entrance exam for a degree in Fine arts in one of the universities in Metro Manila. But the joy and excitement were short lived when my mother told me “Anak, You need to take up nursing, I want you to have a better life.” I was still naïve back then and did not understand what she meant. My rebellious self said to her. “No mama, I want to follow my dreams.” But then, my aunt from the US called and told me that I should take up nursing and she would help support my studies. "Walang pera sa Fine Arts, pag Nurse ka siguradong may trabaho ka. (There's no money in Fine Arts. Be a nurse and you'll have a guaranteed job.") my aunt added.
I knew that time that a decision has already been made. My aunt has been financially supporting me in my education since secondary school. More than my dream of becoming a photographer is my yearning to improve my family’s situation. My parents cannot pay for my tuition fees and I still have a younger sister who would be entering college not long after me. We needed my aunt’s help. And so, I gave in and enrolled for a nursing degree. Luckily, I did well enough in the entrance exams that I qualified to enrol in the nursing programme.
So I put my head down and pursued nursing as a diligent student. As I was studying, instead of feeling encouraged, I felt discouraged though. I saw the harsh conditions and the difficult situation of our health care system in the Philippines. My duty (on site learning experience) at the public hospitals and health institutions were often times depressing— I saw how patients and their families suffer due to the lack of proper equipment, facilities and manpower. A father trying his best to manually pump oxygen for his child, 3 pregnant women sharing one bed and cramping together like sardines in a can, a nurse trying to juggle her work with more than 10 patients whilst teaching her students. I saw the staff stretched to their limits... everyday.
It was tough. Was entering nursing a mistake?
After I finished my degree, I took the nursing boards and passed the exams. The joy of obtaining my license was bittersweet. I felt nurses are undervalued. There were no jobs for new nurses, with the irony that hospitals requiring experience for all applicants. It took me months to land a job and we had to find someone who had a good “influence” in the hospital to back me up. I started as a volunteer and without my backer apparently I would even have to pay for my volunteer post. Eventually I was promoted to a trainee. Since I was a trainee, I received an allowance instead of a pay but was still expected to act as a full time employee. But the job was always hard work regardless of your position. One is to twenty patient to nurse ratio. Rounds. Medication. Carry Out. Repeat. Non stop. And there were times we were treated badly by patients, visitors or even colleagues.
All of the staff, especially us nurses were overworked and undervalued. We are expected to do more yet less efforts are made to engage and retain us. “Sayang effort. Aalis din kayo (It would be a waste of effort. You will just leave.)” one of my then superiors quipped. These words got me thinking — is it really our own doing why we are treated this way or is this the system’s way of forcing us to leave?
Demoralised by my working situation, I tried my luck to apply for abroad.
It was not easy, many agencies wanted nurses. But it seems I didn't have the experience required for most of them. I was down, but I was never out. Luckily I did well in my English exams and I knew that at least that I have my first steps towards the US in the bag. Maybe I can join my aunt, she definitely would help me.
Fate played a funny trick on me though, as the UK came knocking first. Since I did not have anything to lose, I thought. "Why not Choc-nut!" Choc nut was a local crumbly sweet chocolate that was often my life saver during busy shifts!
My first few months in the UK presented new challenges. I arrived in the country during the peak of winter where days were short, cold and dark. Adjusting to the weather, culture and work environment really tested my grit. Being away from my family and friends made it even harder.
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Loneliness and homesickness are real. And yet I carry on everyday.
How am I now? Did I make a big mistake?
Despite of the difficulties, in the end I feel it was worth it. I may have been forced to be a Nurse but over the years I have grown to love the profession.
Nursing made me a better daughter and sister- after I migrated to the UK as a nurse, I am now able to support my family back home and give them a more comfortable life. They too can can progress with their lives through me. It also made me a better person. Each challenge I faced gave me an opportunity to learn and discover things about myself.
But what made me fell in love with this profession is the sense of purpose it gives. Each day I know I have touched someone's life in a positive way. My patients may not remember my name, but some of them do come back and say that they felt they were cared for by their family. And moments like these lift up my spirit. The internal struggles I encounter are washed away even for just that moment.
I am a Nurse not just because I was thrown into it. I am a Nurse because I care for my patients. Nursing may not be my choice then but I cannot imagine my life now if I was not the one who can hold a sick person's hand or care for an ailing patient.
It may have not been what I chose, but becoming a nurse was my best mistake!