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[Y-SPACE] Waves of Dreams: A Journey of a Filipino Nurse

by Erika Aguila

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

When we were young, our parents and teachers would always ask us what do we want to be when we grow up. I am pretty sure our dreams change over time as we grow older and get more exposed to the real world. But for me, it’s different. I always wanted to be a nurse, and I can proudly declare I am one now.

I was exposed to the hospital while growing up since I was a sickly kid in the block. When the age came when I needed to take an entrance exam for college, I would always tick the program Bachelor of Science in Nursing as my first choice. After years of hardships and sleepless nights, I became a registered professional nurse in 2015.

I was a theatre nurse for three years in the Philippines. I enjoyed the company of my colleagues, who turned out to be good and close friends. I cherished the bonding with the doctors and consultants and will always be grateful for all the knowledge and wisdom they have imparted to me. However, there will always be a good and bad side to every aspect of life. Nurses in the Philippines are overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated.

It has been a struggle to remove the stigma that nurses are just like maids in the hospital, following what doctors have written in their orders. Nurses are also tagged as medical personnel who only know how to take the blood pressure of the patients.

Without people's knowledge, nurses also do overtime without getting paid. Imagine being late for 5-10 minutes and they will deduct those minutes from your salary, but staying for an hour or two after your working hours will not equate to getting paid. The salary was little despite the health risk. It is challenging to be independent in paying my monthly expenses.

Apart from that, the nurse-patient ratio is unbelievable. I experienced being a circulating nurse for five theatres, helping eight patients recover all at the same time. We have twelve hours of shift, without even drinking water and long breaks. We were only given 15 days of paid annual leave. When we got sick and decided to file a leave of absence, nurses will not get paid, as if it is our fault to be sick. Up to this day, I do not know how I managed to do that almost every day.

These reasons made me want to get out of this cycle. I opted to begin a new adventure where I would be much more appreciated by society and get paid accordingly.

It was 2017 when I dared to apply as a nurse abroad. I struggled to get a high score for my English exam. I tried three times just to get the score I need to become a nurse in the United Kingdom. When 2019 came, I started my new journey as a nurse in the United Kingdom.

I am currently a trauma and orthopaedic theatre nurse in one of the Trauma Centres here in the UK. I would say it is challenging as everything is new to me: different setting, different environment, and multi-cultural colleagues for me to get familiar with. It was never easy at first, but I got comfortable and felt more at ease when I started to familiarize myself. I learned a lot during my stay, including how to perform long, complex, and specialized operations that I never thought I'd be capable of.

During the first wave of COVID-19, people all over the United Kingdom would go to their window and do the clap for the NHS and all key workers. I saw firsthand how thankful people are to all the key workers to fight against the health crisis. Being a nurse in the United Kingdom gave me access to be one of the prioritized people to have the COVID-19 vaccine and be one of the first in the world to have one, which I feel very thankful for.

I also enjoy the work-life balance here in the UK. I have eight weeks of paid annual leave, paid sick days, and a salary I can use to help my family in the Philippines with their finances and expenses.

As I said earlier, there’s always good and bad. With this pandemic, I am struggling with homesickness as I cannot go home to visit my friends and family in the Philippines. I missed family events, funerals, and important life events of my friends.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government is completely different from the United Kingdom. Since then, the Philippines is unappreciative of the healthcare sector. The unending battle of the healthcare unions is still rising to fight the increase of pay for nurses. You may say that I am biased, but I can only attest to what I have seen and experience. They did not realize that being a nurse is not just a profession but a vocation. We, nurses, always have to pour our hearts out for the patients. We need to extend ourselves a little more.

“Living the dream,” as some usually say. I am here because I dream. I am happy I am doing what I desire to do ever since I was a kid. All the hardships I have encountered along the way made me wiser, stronger and made me persevere more. I do hope you will be brave enough to choose what will make you happy and know that it is a triumphant win for yourself.

Erika Aguila is a young Filipino nurse in London, United Kingdom. She is a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

YSPACE is a platform open for young writers to contribute their worth-sharing thoughts and stories to the world. It is a space for young people and by the young people which aims to promote a strong sense of empowerment and inspiration to young Filipinos.

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