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Journey of a Filipino Nurse: from PH to UAE to UK


In the world of healthcare, nurses are the caring heroes who help patients everywhere. One remarkable registered nurse has an amazing story of travelling across continents. Her journey is filled with bravery and commitment, taking her from the Philippines to the Middle East and finally to the United Kingdom.

Meet Nurse JB, a brave healthcare hero whose career took her from the Philippines to the Middle East, and finally to the United Kingdom. Starting from humble beginnings, JB thrived in different healthcare places, showing us how important nurses are. Let's explore her exciting adventure filled with ups and downs, and how she never gave up on her dreams. Get ready to be inspired by Nurse JB's incredible journey, where she proves that nothing can stop a determined nurse from making a difference in the world.


From Volunteer Nurse to Pursuing Dreams in the UK…

Nurse JB graduated in 2007 in Baguio and took her PNLE in June of the same year and ended up passing the exam. She immediately volunteered to work in a hospital and after 3 months also volunteered to work as a nurse in the Air Force Hospital in Clark. At just 22 years old, this nurse ventured into a new chapter of her career by accepting a job as an Operating Room (OR) nurse in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. However, the experience turned out to be a lonely and challenging one. The strict rules and limited freedom in Saudi Arabia made her feel confined, with only three hours of free time on her day off allowed, barely enough to buy groceries and tend to personal needs. Unable to endure the feeling of being restricted and somewhat enslaved, she made the difficult decision to cut her contract short and return to her homeland.

Seeking a fresh start, she moved to Qatar in 2012 to work as a private duty nurse. Despite the change in location, circumstances proved to be difficult again, and she was unable to complete her contract in Qatar. In 2015, Nurse JB decided to return to the Philippines, where she landed a job as a corporate nurse. This new role allowed her to gain valuable experience in the corporate healthcare setting, contributing to her professional growth and skill development. In 2018, she and her husband travelled as a tourist in the UK and as she experienced how it is to live in the UK, Nurse JB said to herself that one day she will be back in the UK, working and living her dreams. They stayed in the UK for almost 2 months before flying to Abu Dhabi UAE to work.

In July 2018, her aspirations led her to Abu Dhabi, UAE where she worked as a nurse for nearly five years. Although she appreciated the experience and opportunities in Abu Dhabi, the desire to fulfil her long-standing dream of working in the UK persisted. Finally, in March 2023, the nurse and her husband decided to leave the UAE and head to the UK, where she would pursue her ultimate goal. Living and working in The UK, according to her, is the best decision she ever did for her career. Since 2007 she has been dreaming of working in the UK, but various requirements have hindered her progress. When she and her husband were in the UAE they finally decided to focus and to really accomplish that long-standing desire, to move to the UK. The road to this point had been filled with ups and downs, but it was all part of the extraordinary story that had taken her to her dreams.



How’s Your Application Process To Be a UK Nurse From ME?

The application process is quite similar whether you are coming from the Philippines or the Middle East. However, it's easier to leave from the Middle East because we don't have to go through the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) and we didn't need to do the TB test and vaccinations like childhood immunizations, which I heard are required in the Philippines. Though, I'm not entirely sure about this since we didn't do it in the Middle East.

I went through the OET (English test) and CBT (Computer-Based Test). After completing those, I had an interview, and fortunately, I passed. I feel blessed to have gotten a job at one of the best NHS trusts in London, UK. Once I received my Certificate of Sponsorship (COS), my husband and I went to the Abu Dhabi Visa Facilitation Services (VFS) on February 7.

It was a wonderful surprise when on Valentine's Day, February 14, our visas were granted. It felt like the sweetest Valentine's gift I've ever received! My agency booked our tickets, and we left the UAE together on March 23 to embark on this new chapter in the UK.


Quick Overview of the Application Journey…

“To be honest, passing the OET (English test) was quite challenging for me. I took it four times, and I always struggled with the reading section, getting a score of 330. It took me two years to finally pass the OET. In my last attempt, the interlocutor fell asleep during my speaking session, causing confusion, and I had to file a complaint. Eventually, I had to retake the speaking part. Despite the delays, I stayed focused on my goal of reaching the UK.

I had the support of a dedicated agency that encouraged me not to give up. Their consistent follow-ups were very helpful throughout the process. Meanwhile, I managed to pass my CBT (Computer-Based Test) while waiting for the OET results.

During the interview, I was evaluated by trusts in both Manchester and London. I chose London as my destination since my family and relatives are there, and there are more job opportunities for my husband, who works in a hotel.

The OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination) was a memorable experience. My Trust provided excellent support during the OSCE program. In a cohort of 13, we went through the program from March 27 to May 16. On May 17, I took my OSCE in Northampton, and by God's grace, I passed it in one attempt. It was crucial because we needed provision, and with a Band 5 salary, we can sustain ourselves better. My husband also found a job at a luxury hotel in Sloane Square, London, where he appreciates the work-life balance he never experienced in the ME. It's the same for me, I now enjoy a better work-life balance and my husband even receives bonuses from the company.



Advantages of Being a Nurse in the Middle East…

Being a nurse in the Middle East has been a rewarding experience in many ways according to her. The opportunities have helped her hone her nursing skills, making her feel more confident and capable in her profession. The challenges she faced in this diverse environment taught Nurse JB to be resilient and adaptable, traits that have not only benefited her as a nurse but also as an individual.

Apart from personal growth, the financial advantages of working in ME have been significant. The fact that she doesn't have to pay taxes and there are no deductions like National Insurance (NI) and Pension means that she can take home her full salary. This financial stability has allowed her to support her family back home and plan for a better future.


Challenges of Being a Nurse in the Middle East…


Lack of Work-Life Balance

Life seems to revolve around work with little time for vacations or personal time. Even when on sick leave, Nurse JB often finds herself still having to work from home. On her days off, she never feels respected because the manager would still call her to cover duty, and she can't say no without upsetting them.

The situation during the pandemic has been even more demanding. She has experienced people calling her in the middle of the night, and ended up working late hours, adding to the exhaustion. Her husband has faced a similar issue, where even when he's scheduled to be off for seven days, his manager would demand he come to work and cut off his vacation early due to staff shortage. Not showing up would result in salary deductions, leaving him with no choice but to comply.


Some Do Not Treat Filipino Nurses with Respect

Not everyone, but some individuals don't show them the respect they deserve. They treat them like they are their slaves, which is hurtful and unfair. She had experienced being shouted at and cursed, which made her feel really upset. What's even more disheartening is that Nurse JB’s organization doesn't always protect them or stand up for them when they face such treatment. It feels like they don't have a voice to defend themselves as expatriates in a foreign land.


You Are Paid According to Your Passport and Nationality

Your salary as a nurse is based on your passport and nationality, which doesn't seem fair. Even if you have 20 years of experience or excellent education, like having a Master's degree in the Philippines, your salary won't be the same as those from countries like Britain, America, Canada, or the Middle East. This means that no matter how skilled or qualified you are, your nationality affects your pay, which can be really discouraging. It's frustrating to see that your hard work and education don't get recognized equally, simply because of where you come from.

In the Middle East (ME), they might let you do a medical procedure even if you're new and haven't received proper training. But in the United Kingdom (UK), they value patient safety more. If you're not skilled enough to do a procedure, you can say no to protect the patient and yourself. They'll ask you to attend training first, so you become competent and confident in what you do.


Not Enough Training

In the Middle East (ME), they might let you do a medical procedure even if you're new and haven't received proper training. In her experience in ME, sometimes they expect nurses to do things even if they're not fully capable, just because they're nurses. This can be risky for the patients.


Your Clinical Judgment Doesn’t Matter. Do Not Challenge the Doctor’s Decision:

Your clinical judgment as a nurse might not be given much importance. Challenging a doctor's decision is often seen as disrespectful because they view nursing as a lower profession.



Working Conditions in ME VS UK…

Let's compare nursing conditions in the Middle East (ME) and the United Kingdom (UK). In the UK, nurses feel valued and respected, and ideas are considered. The transportation system is excellent, and work hours offer flexibility. Sick leave is compassionate, and maternity leave is supportive. While the ME may offer tax-free salaries, the cost of living can be high, limiting savings. Overall, the UK provides better working conditions and appreciation for nurses, making it a more rewarding experience.


Was the move worth it? Why?

“Absolutely! It's beyond worth it, and I have no regrets about my decision to move here. While I'm grateful for the opportunities in the Middle East (ME) that allowed us to save, I realized life isn't just about money. It's about planning for the future, thinking long-term.

To be honest, going back to the Philippines after working in the ME is the last thing on my mind. Although I could start a business with the money I saved, I'm concerned about my pension from the Social Security System (SSS). In the UK, healthcare and medicines are free, and I know I'll have a proper pension to rely on during retirement.

What makes it even better is the work-life balance here in the UK. I can take care of my family and enjoy quality time with them. It's reassuring to know that the government here cares for its people, and even though I pay taxes and deductions, I know it will benefit me in the long run. My husband and I feel blessed to be here in the UK. Many dream of reaching this place, and we're grateful to God for making it possible for us. It's truly a dream come true, and we're excited about the future ahead.”



Advice to ME Nurses Who Want to Move to the UK…

“Be strong and courageous! Keep pressing on. Do not let other people ruin and discourage you in achieving your goals. Go to a place where you will be valued and respected because YOU TRULY DESERVE THAT! Don’t give up! Surrender all your plans to God and trust His heart that one day you will live the dream that God has promised you!

Lastly, It's never going to be a smooth sailing ship, there's going to be ups and downs and I think one of the most important things to understand is not to ride the highs too high and ride the lows too low - it is a marathon and if you can just try to steady the ship as you go. - Patty Mills”


Helpful Tips or Websites for Aspiring UKRNs…

“I have a subscription with https://www.nursingtimes.net I always read news and trends here. Above all, I read my bible and have a quiet time with the Lord. Because He alone can give us clear instructions about life because He is the author of life. I suggest aspiring nurses really pray harder and be ready to be amazed at what God has in store for them! Greater things in your career are yet to come! Kudos to all the nurses you all deserve respect and love.”


Nurse JB wishes her identity to be concealed as she shares her journey from the Philippines to the Middle East and finally to the United Kingdom. Facing challenges and triumphs, she pursued her dream of working in the UK as a nurse. Despite obstacles in the application process, she made it happen. So to those aspiring UKRNs whether in the Philippines or in the Middle East, stay strong, trust in God's plan, and never lose sight of your dreams. With perseverance, you too can make a difference and achieve your goals!


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