Filipino nurses, dressed in professional scrubs, stands together smiling

Did you ever wonder why a large number of Filipinos choose a career in nursing? In California alone, 20% of the nursing force are Filipino, however Filipino immigrants make up only 4% of the state’s population. The mainstream media even jokes about the fact that most Filipinos are nurses, but what explains this phenomenon? This may be traced down to Filipino societal upbringing and history. “Magaral ka ng mabuti, para maganda ang kinabukasan mo!” is a common saying, which means “study well to have a better future.” This is what every Filipino mother tells their children. Education is an integral part of Philippine society. In a developing country, many aspire to finish college for a better life and have the chance to work abroad for higher pay, which is why they choose fields in high demand overseas, including nursing.

The Philippines, located in Southeast Asia, was an American territory when the U.S. acquired the Philippines from Spain for $20 million in the Treaty of Paris in 1898 until independence in 1946. After decades of American interaction, the American ideals stuck with many Filipinos, one of which was the importance of education. Also in 1903, President William Taft passed the Pensionado Act, which provided funding for certain Filipino students to study in colleges in the U.S. Many of these students studied nursing because of the high demand back in the Philippines and in the U.S., amidst many war casualties. However, a large number of nurses remained in the U.S. and started an influx of migration of nurses. This demand increased further during World War I and World War II. The migration also became easier for nurses during the Cold War from the late 1940s to the early 1990s. The U.S. encouraged the influx of educated immigrants, especially nurses, to come to the U.S. under the Exchange Visitor program. This opportunity for a better life encouraged more Filipinos to become nurses and immigrate to the U.S., which in turn created a demand to build more nursing schools in the Philippines.

This nursing migration was not one-sided, however. It also benefited their families. Last year, overseas Fillipino workers remitted $27 billion to the Philippines, which is roughly 10% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Filipino remittances remain vital to the economy, which is a result of a five-decade long practice. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos realized the demand for quality workers abroad, thus he instituted the export for labor. It set the path for the cycle of cash remittances.

There is a story in every Filipino nurse out there. It is through many decades of history and societal practice as to why they are here. “Salamat sa sipag at tiyaga niyo! Mabuhay ang mga Pinoy nurses sa buong mundo!” which means for all of the Filipino nurses working abroad, thank you for all your hard work! Long live all the Filipino nurses around the world!