BAGUIO CITY —-They are a familiar sight, often seen hurrying towards hospital or medical institution zones. Without them, medical wards might just as well grind to a drag.
“Nurses, like other health care workers, are just as essential as doctors. But they are often undervalued.”
Such statement in a nutshell, by Antoinette Lanesca, who has highlander and lowlander blood running in her veins and a public health nurse in the lowlands, underscores the washout being felt by her, and her other counterparts in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Region 1 and other regions as well in the Philippines.
Ms. Lanesca, who took her regular weekday off from her nurse work by coming home to Baguio, is assigned in Region 1, agreed last Thursday to sit for a talk with Herald Express on the human side of nursing, before going back to her work in the lowlands.
Ms. Lanesca revealed she previously worked as nurse in the private sector and experienced the privation working is said sector. She kept at it, until in 2021, she applied as nurse in government, hurdled the examination and passed other requirements.
“Most often, many see nurses as merely to wipe patients’ buttocks, give patients the medicines prescribed by the doctor or give patients the bedpans,” Lanesca laughingly described.
Such outlook happens to refer to the regard which many persons seem to wrongly hold in view for the nursing profession, nowadays.
Ms. Lanesca revealed that her mother, a Cordilleran, was also a nurse, was previously assigned in Benguet and who retired from government service in the 60’s.
She remembered her mother saying to her that during that time, nurses were looked upon as “guardian angels,” by hospital patients who often thanked the nurses with simple tokens like home-made goodies, fruits and vegetables.
In the barrios, their invaluable suggestions on health care were heeded by the rural folk who took their word almost as that of a doctor, Antoinette Lanesca’s mother, told her.
Ms. Lanesca further revealed that during her mother’s time as a nurse, a visit by the district school nurse was an occasion for schoolchildren to come to school in their neatest shirts, dress or in school uniform.
These things still happen, but much has changed, according to Ms. Lanesca.
“Nowadays, people expect nurses to be counselor, health provider, administrator, little doctor, and housemaid, all rolled into one,” said Ms. Lanesca.
But appreciation of what they do, of the huge responsibility that nursing entails, has waned considerably or lost among people’s understanding.
One indication that their services are undervalued among professionals Ms. Lanesca pointed out, is the condition of their being underpaid.
For those working in the nursing profession, the disproportionate amount of work and pay was reason revealed by Ms. Lanesca why some of her colleagues working in private hospitals opted “to seek greener pastures” of the Philippines.
However, Ms. Lanesca was quick to point out that salary scale of nurses working in the government sector is far higher when compared to those working in private health care institutions.
Newly- accepted nurses by the government start at Salary Grade 11, or Nurse 1. As usually is the case, after their performance is rated “Very Satisfactory,” their position level becomes Nurse 11 and their Salary Grade as SG 12. Nurses in government usually accomplish this in just after a year of service.
In the government sector, salary of nurses are defined by the established salary grade level and yearly step up salary increment, just as is the case of other government employees, Ms. Lanesca said, conditions which are, unfortunately non-existent in the private nursing sector.
Statistics from World Health Organization (WHO) reveal that in 2017, there were 90,308 working nurses in the Philippines, outnumbering other health workers of which there were 40,775 physicians, 13,413 medical technologists and 43,044 midwives.
Ms. Lanesca explained that “much as I hate to translate appreciation into materialistic terms,” she believed that even the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) would agree with her that a realistic income for nurses working in the private sector would encourage more nurses to stay in the profession, rather than take on less demanding and better paying jobs.
In the first place, becoming a nurse is an investment of money and time and even tagged one of the most expensive courses in Philippine colleges.
Ms. Lanesca narrated a would-be nurse, aside from passing the nursing board, must have at least hospital internship, and must have passed the government’s career service professional examination as basic requirements to apply for government nurse position.
And if nurses plan to work abroad, they need to undergo language examination, Ms. Lanesca said.
“Just as we serve humanity, we are also humans with basic needs,” reminded Ms. Lanesca.
Nor do nurses need to be embarrassed about wanting to be paid more. Ms. Lanesca pointed out that the circumstances of nurse work give them a responsibility almost as great as the doctor’s.
A simple slip-up, which would be forgivable, say, in an ordinary office, or other work calling, could mean the difference between life and death in medical surroundings, Ms. Lanesca explained.
Work overload, stressful working environment, slow promotion and depressing wage – particularly in the private medical sector – have forced many to cast their fortunes and look for work outside of the Philippines, Ms. Lanesca intoned.
Asked why she stayed put while her other nurse friends applied for work abroad, she wryly answered, “Who knows? Maybe only time will tell, much as I like to serve my co-Cordillerans and co-lowlanders.”
Such defining attitude, motivated by the knowledge they are doing meaningful work for other Filipinos in the Philippine countryside clashes with actual situation whereby they want to serve their country while putting up with income disparity and other unfavorable working conditions.
Philippine nurses working abroad earn ten times more than what Ms. Lanesca brings home to her family.
At present, WHO found out that in the Philippines, ratio of nurses to population stands at 5,000 individuals is being served by 8 nurses, considered an imbalance or disparity. In other Southeast Asian countries, the ratio is higher.
The Department of Health (DOH) last year earmarked about one-tenth of 201.2 billion pesos budget for health manpower build-up.
About 25.78 billion pesos had been allocated for the “Health Systems Straitening program,” intended to beef up capacity of the health work force.
Part of said budget will be used in the deployment of about 23,354 health workers as support to existing national and local health systems.
Before the pandemic, the Department of Health admitted an estimated 209,000 health workers needed for the country.
A study by WHO listed five of the many reasons why nurses and other health care workers try to find work in other countries, these being, economic, financial reasons, working conditions, deteriorating condition in home country and socio-political reasons.
Ms. Lanesca narrated that at present many who graduated nursing have found work by becoming police officers of the Philippine National Police (PNP), joining the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) or entering the rank and file of other positions in different government offices.
Ms. Lanesca, in parting, encouraged newly graduates of nursing to pass the Career Service Professional examination given yearly by the government so that in case they cannot land a nursing job in government medical institutions, they have other recourse of entering government service.
“In fact, there are now many graduates of nursing working in other government agencies, like in the Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Agriculture, (DA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and in different Local Government Units (LGUs),” Ms. Lanesca added.