By Sheila Mariano
AUCKLAND, North Shore – Filipino nurses have made this same journey in droves. After graduating from nursing schools and encountering a bleak employment market or languishing in poorly paid health sector jobs in the Philippines … the only way out for some is to migrate.
Nurses are forced to uproot and transplant themselves into developed countries that have severe health sector staff shortages. It’s a way for them to escape the poverty trap and look forward to enjoying a better standard of living.
But the transition into a new country is not always plain sailing, warns Joel Razon, 42; who came to New Zealand in 1996 “when nurses were in demand”. Newcomers must meet the stringent registration requirements of the host country and like him they may encounter difficulties in interacting with a foreign culture.
This North Shore resident, who originates from Tarlac City in the Philippines, came with nursing experience. “For 4 years I was a nurse in the Emergency Department of a hospital and my wife was working in the Intensive Care Unit.”
Why choose nursing as a career path? “Back then it was very common for men to take up nursing,” explains Joel. “Actually I wanted to join the Philippine Military Academy; many of my relatives were in the health service and some were nurses working in America. As nurses were in demand abroad at that time we were persuaded to take up nursing as well.”
Joel came over here first, leaving behind his wife and one-year-old son. “I found a job at a rest home as a caregiver while I was doing my preparation for registration with the Nursing Council. When I passed the exams I worked as a Registered Nurse at the same rest home. Later they gave me a job offer and I was able to apply for residency.
“In 1999 I found work with another health provider (Maori Health). Although I was a migrant they were very welcoming and helped me with the transition into a new work environment. I’m now one of those hiring new staff. And I’m on their management team, working with around 20 staff – nurses, doctors and medical receptionists.
TOUGH TIMES PAVE WAY TO BETTER LIFE
Many in his position would have admitted defeat, packed up their bags and returned home. “Initially I was ready to give up,” admits Joel Razon. “I was even thinking of exploring opportunities in other countries.
“It was tough during the early phase of settling here, being separated from my family and having limited funds to support myself. But we accepted that this is how it would have to be starting out. So we persisted in order to create a better life for ourselves.”
Fortunately for Joel, a friend from the Philippines who had come over at the same time managed to find them a flat, which they shared with other flatmates. “Then when I started working I would walk to and from my workplace to save money. It took me an hour each way.”
Probably the biggest challenge Joel faced was the job search. “It was so difficult because you need NZ experience. Philippine work experience did not count for much. I sent out hundreds of applications with no success. After several months I finally landed a job at a rest home.
“I also expected social integration to be difficult, but I didn’t realise how hard it would be until it came to fruition. For example, although we speak the same language, the slight differences in accents and pronunciations would prove to be a small barrier both ways.
“In New Zealand, there are restrictions and rules, as most things are done through protocol and guidelines. Whereas in the Philippines, as you know your countrymen, I guess it’s somewhat easier to relate to each other and transition into new work environments.”
Self-motivation, self-discipline and prayers helped Joel get through the tough times. “The first year was a struggle, but when my family came over after a year I found renewed strength. And my wife, who is also a registered nurse, found a job.”
Some final words of advice to would-be migrants from Joel: “Persistence and motivation are key – don’t lose hope because the opportunities will come around at some point.
“Make an effort to integrate into New Zealand society, both culturally and socially as this will set you apart from other immigrants.
“New Zealand is a great place for living and raising a family. The opportunities are abundant if you have the right attitude and drive.”