This photo essay on Filipino American nurses dealing with the pandemic, coupled with it being Filipino American History Month, made me reflect on the long history of Filipino American nurses. We have talked before about why so many nurses in the United States are from the Philippines, but after digging in deeper, I found some interesting historical connections that I missed. I thought I would share those, along with some thoughts on that photo essay.
We previously mentioned the Exchange Visitor Program as path for Filipino nurses to enter the US, but as I looked into the program more, I did not know that it was started in 1948 as an effort to combat Cold War propaganda by exposing non-Americans to US democracy and culture. This program allowed people from other countries to live in and work in the US. American hospitals took advantage of the program to deal with staffing challenges. My own mother came to the US on this program more than 60 years ago. After the major immigration changes in 1965, US hospitals found other ways to find nurses. The ad shown above was from an ad in a Filipino nursing journal more than 50 years.
The age of that ad shows that generations of Filipino nurses have served the US for decades. I believe that trend will continue. The photo essay follows Jennifer Bulaong, whose mother is also a nurse and whose daughter is studying to become a nurse. It mentions how she is counting the work hours until her contract ends so she can rejoin their family elsewhere in the US. I know many nurses who experienced that waiting period, and when they move on, they may be replaced by other nurses from the Philippines. Because of retirements and burnout during the pandemic, hospital systems like Henry Ford Health Systems in Detroit are again looking for nurses from the Philippines.