The Filipino Nurse And That Emmys Shout-Out

With an average pay of P9,757 per month in the Philippines, it’s no wonder Filipino nurses flock to American ERs.
IMAGE Freepik

The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards had their night earlier this week, and it opened with a shoutout to the Filipino diaspora. In a politically charged monologue, Saturday Night Live's Michael Che and Colin Jost poked fun at the lack of diversity in Hollywood, among other things.

"Things are getting better, but as we all know, TV has always had a diversity problem," said Che. "I mean, can you believe that they did 15 seasons of ER without one Filipino nurse?” The star-studded crowd burst into laughter. “Have you been to a hospital?"

It didn’t take long for Twitter to react, mostly in agreement: It really is time for television to accept the reality of Filipinos in America. Che's joke, after all, is rooted in truth: there are, in fact, a lot of Filipino nurses in America. And while it was just a joke and a nice shoutout, it bears remembering why there are so many Filipino nurses abroad in the first place.

Realities at home

In California, 20 percent of all registered nurses are Filipinos. That's one-fifth of nurses in the entire state. We are a top exporter of nurses, due in part to the steep wage gap between nurses working in the Philippines and nurses working abroad, which is clearly stated on the website of the Bureau of Local Employment under the Department of Labor and Employment.

“In the local labor market, an entry-level registered nurse receives a salary of P8,000 to P13,500 per month. Registered Nurses hired at Hospitals commonly receive an average salary of P9,757 per month. In the government, the average salary per month is around P13,500 while in private sector, the rate average is around P10,000 per month. Overseas, the pay scale is way above local rates with the US market offering an average salary of $3,800 (P205,412.80) per month, the United Kingdom with £1,662 (P118,706.69), and Canada with $4,097 (171,530.10) for entry-level.


It’s the chance at a higher salary and better benefits that has almost 19,000 Filipino nurses leaving per year. In 2017, the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) stated that 92,277 nurses have left the country to work abroad from 2012 to 2017.

In an effort to fight back against this brain drain, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) rolled out a program to ensure that medical students in state universities and colleges (SUCs), in exchange for free college tuition, render one year of service in the Philippines for every year of cash grant. It's a start, but not a long-term solution.

IMAGE: Freepik

The struggle of the Filipino nurse

Hangga't hindi nabibigay ang disenteng sahod, talagang mapupuwersa na lumabas ng bansa ang ating mga nurses,” says Eleanor Nolasco from Filipino Nurses United (FNU), also noting that contractualization is a pressing issue in the healthcare industry. (According to FNU, many hospitals hire nurses for a 4-5 month period on a “job order” contract basis, on which they are not afforded regular benefits).

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In addition to little pay and no benefits, there’s also the burden of unsafe nurse-patient ratio, 12 hour shifts, mental and physical burnout, unpaid overtime, bullying by management, and pressure to work overseas, according to St. Luke's Medical Center Employees Association May 2015 survey.

Despite and because of all these obstacles faced by Philippine-based nurses, efforts have been taken to improve their livelihood. In February of this year, the Makabayan bloc filed House Bill 7196 or “An Act Upgrading the Minimum Monthly Salary of Nurses to P30,000 and Providing for Benefits for Nurses.”

Following the salary hike of soldiers and police officers, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate hopes that the salary increase of nurses willhelp cushion the impact of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) and the skyrocketing prices of basic commodities.” While the bill still has a long way to go, it’s a step to progress.

But many of us need not look further than our own relatives and loved ones to see the difficulties of Overseas Filipino Workers, and OFW nurses. The large population of Filipino nurses in America is a self-evident reality of the Filipino diaspora. Many of our nurses are taking their skills elsewhere around the world—certainly enough to merit some representation in E.R.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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