Sunday, 13 January 2013

FEATURE: Tales of two Pinoy nurses in the US

A Filipino nurse at work at a hospital in Maryland, US. - Websitepic

Michigan, USA

AS PART of the exchange visitor program of the United States after 1948, nursing professionals from the Philippines came to the US in thousands. 

Such program was not really intended to favor the country specifically our nurses but it was created to combat Soviet propaganda during the Cold War thru exposition of US democracy to foreigners. 

People from countries where America has its strong political, cultural, economic and social relationship were given special privilege to study and work for two years and find out what they can learn about the US particulary its culture and society. 

Later on, because of the effect of World War II nursing shortages, America needed lots of experienced nursing professionals from anywhere they can get. 

That was the starting point when the exchange visitor program with US government’s approval became a recruiting vehicle for US.

It was really in the  mid-60s when big migration of Philippine nurses occurred when US migration laws, which had favored Northern European countries, were changed, allowing more people from the Philippines and Asia to immigrate. 

The new law also allowed nurses to come here on tourist visas even without prearranged employment, says Reuben Seguritan, JD, a Filipino-American Attorney who is general counsel to the PNAA (Philippine Nurse Association of America) then.

Job placement agencies for nurses and other medical  professionals as well as “fly-now-pay later" travel groups multiplied in number  to meet the demands of sponsoring American hospitals and getting them "on board into gigantic airplanes … first time to the US without worrying financial burden to the families they left behind. 

There were only a handful of 17 nursing schools in the Philippines after the War, (most of them in Manila) and yet  enrollment soared in the late 40s thus, giving   Institutional leaders  in education the incentive to open-up more schools the preceeding years. 

In 1990, there were 170 and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE ) said that the total number of nursing schools in the country for the year 2010 was 450.

Nursing schools in the Philippines are now manned and regulated by Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
Department of Education created this commission to monitor and evaluate the quality of nursing graduates that these schools produce each year. 

Failing to meet the nursing board examination passing rate to CHED standard will result to initial warning and or closing/phase-out of the college. Of the above number, 150 schools were told to improve their performance.

(Information above courtesy of  websites Philippine Nurses in the US … Yesterday and Today,,
 Bing Crosby's 'White Christmas'

Shirley Aguada-Mataverde, RN
"I am dreaming of white Christmas" … Bing Crosby's song was totally inspiring  and made coming to America so delightful … I would like to see and feel for myself what is to be in the snow by touching it,” said Shirley A Mataverde, now a retired nurse who came to the US under the exchange visitor visa in 1967. 

The eldest of seven siblings from small barrio in the town of Alcala, Pangasinan, Aguada-Mataverde, an elementary school class valedictorian who graduated with honors at Alcala High School in 1961 (now Cipriano Primicias Memorial High School), was highly motivated to go to college, take up nursing and make sure her younger siblings had the opportunity to watch movies in television and eat chocolates just like her what her nurse-cousin would bring home from America every time she paid a visit to relatives in Pangasinan. 

"Ang sabi ng father ko sa akin noon ay huwag raw akong makupad … kailangan raw parating nasa unahan para makamtan ko ang gusto ko sa buhay" (my Dad told me then to be always first on line in order to achieve my goals in life).

She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Santo Thomas in 1966, worked as staff nurse at UST hospital for less than two years and in November of 1967, together with three nurse recruits, set foot in freezing, windy suburban city of Chicago, Illinois.

“Ito pala and America, malungkot at malamig," (so this is America, lonely and too cold). 

“Just like what my lola said: "Sana kung may pera lang ako, hindi ako papayag na umalis ka" (If only I had substantial amount of money, I won't let you go). 

Compared to their American co-workers, Filipino nurses were paid STIPEND (Webster Dictionary: A fix sum of money paid periodically for services to defray expenses) and not salary for reason that they were in the US through the exchange program and was made possible as learning opportunity. 

With the enactment of US immigration laws pertinent to exchange visitor visa, adjustment to legal immigrant status, such non-adjustment of compensation by some American hospitals at that time was so rampant considered and deemed as labor exploitation by many.

Documented complaints lodged with the Department of Labor made it possible the full compliance of salary scale re-alignment and these hospitals were told  to standardize and comply work equality and distribution among all workers.

“Reflecting on being a nurse for the last 46 years was something easy for me to rekindle … I made a big difference in the lives of many and my utmost gratitude for countless blessings and opportunities it has given me … my family, the joy of my life, our grand children and many friends around. 

“Also, because of my career in nursing and extended help from my younger sister, (also a nurse) the rest of my siblings and parents were able to come to the US,” Mataverde said with a smile.

Shirley is married to Dr Alex Mataverde and they were blessed with a daughter and a son, with their wonderful spouses and four grand kids. 

They all live in Michigan.

Teresita A Avena, RN
Teresita A Avena, RN
ABOUT six months after graduating from UST, Teresita A Avena passed the nursing board examination.
Then, after working for few months as staff nurse of a medium-size hospital in Sta Mesa, Manila in 1971, she and her elder sister (who happened to be a nurse as well) had their first-time experiences: To be on board a jumbo PANAM Airlines  bound for Detroit, Michigan USA. 

The sponsoring hospital where their elder sister worked as medical doctor facilitated and processed their working visas. 

“This is the turning point of my  career in nursing and my hopes for the future,”  Avena said to herself quietly.

Unlike today's US international flight routes which would take you to your destination with one or two stop-overs, they had Guam as first stop, Honolulu and then San Francisco International Airport in California, which is one of the the ports of entry to the US mainland.

They waited six hours for their connecting flight to Michigan and with some US loose change on her purse. Hungry and tired, they could only watched people eating. 

Finally, Avena decided asking a food-counter staff as to "how much a hotdog and softdrink cost".  

“You mean, pop, do you? … It's   two dollars and eighty-five cents (US$2. 85) each or five dollars and seventy cents (US$5. 70) for two,” the woman at the counter said. 

"Thank you and here's the money (in US coins) and see if I have enough,” Avena said.  

After having it counted, with comforting smile the lady said : " You're okey … and welcome to America !!! 

Avena experiences her first snow encounter.

Upon arrival in Michigan, such story was bigger than anything else and the first lesson Avena and her sister got from their brother-in-law was knowing the United States currency monetary units . 

Filipino nurses who came to the US in the 70s were better compensated from the first day of work and unlike their fellow nurses ahead of them in the 60s early on , they managed retaining their "status quo" outright as reliable and dedicated healthcare  professionals and deserving full recognition from hospital authorities and peers. 

Avena poses for a picture at home.
From a regular staff nurse position, “Tessie" (he nickname) was promoted to charge-nurse and then to nurse-supervisor in a short time.

Sending money back home was no different to any Pinay/Pinoy nurses and just like them, she made it sure that every  payday she has to drop by at a nearby  bank and do money transfer to Manila for the next four years to parents in Paranaque. 

In summer of 1974, Avena decided to come home to marry the man she met at that hospital in Sta Mesa, Manila. 

Avena and husband, Percy A Ostonal
They have an only child. While her husband was away in 1982 on overseas job contract in the Middle East, her US 3rd preference immigration petition came in and she was notified immediately by US Embassy in Manila for processing. 
 Meanwhile, early on, their daughter together with her grandmother flew to the US in 1981 for a two-month holiday (Avena's parents and siblings are US immigrants) after filling extension of stay document to US Immigration Office in Detroit for her daughter, her siblings enrolled her daughter to a grade school a few blocks away from their rented apartment. 

Avena (right) with fellow nurses when they went to Lansing, Michigan for their licensure examination ,

Being a "green card holder" or resident alien, her daughter's residency was automatically re-adjusted into immigrant status in 1982. 

Avena's training and work experience at crisis center, inpatient psychiatry, medical/surgical acute care, telemetry, burn/hydrotherapy  and medical Intensive care unit  from her second American trauma center hospital employment in 1982 (Detroit, Michigan) made her change of work/employment afterward literally  easy to her present-day inpatient rehabilitation nursing job.

She is looking forward for her retirement in three years time.

Meanwhile, upon job contract completion overseas, her husband's immigration family petition in the Philippines finally made their reunion in America realized in April of 1985.

He is now retired, worked as home Improvement designer-salesperson for a US and world largest home Improvement chain centers with stores  in the state of Michigan. 

Larah Faye Ostonal
Their daughter, Larah Faye, upon graduation from high school in 1994 went to the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and pursued  and earned a degree in nursing  in 1998.

She works as neuro-trauma intensive care unit (NICU) nurse during the past 14 years for a county hospital in downtown Detroit. 

She is married and has a son.

(Writer's notes: The former Ms Avena and I were married in Manila in December of 1975. Larah Faye Ostonal-Barcelon is our only child.)



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