Thursday, April 11, 2024

Filipino Nurse in the USA: Joanne Vilchez-Baysa

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Hi everyone, my name is Joanne Vilchez Baysa, born in Zamboanga del Norte and working as a staff nurse at the Pre-Admission Testing Clinic of St Joseph Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

My decision to work abroad was mostly because of the encouragement of maternal relatives, and the inspiration of my aunts, both nurses in California.

My daily routine at work here at St Joseph Hospital includes looking after and preparing patients before their upcoming surgery. I handle different surgery patients such as General, Neurology, Gyn, and Cardiovascular Thoracic. I share the workload with several nurses, many of whom are also Filipinos. We come from diverse backgrounds. I am happy to work in such a multicultural environment as I get to learn new things – language, food, and beliefs – all the time.

How I became a nurse abroad

With the encouragement of my dearest maternal grandma, it was a decision I gradually came to commit to and love. It takes more than just a body of knowledge. You have to have the heart to serve. My Aunties, both Nurses based in California were great sources of inspiration and support and in a way influenced my decision to pursue my career and work also in the US.

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I started my career as a nurse at the Medical Mission Group in Davao City, where I worked for six months. I moved later to a local clinic near my hometown for almost one year, then to Davao Doctors Hospital for a couple more years.

While I love working in Davao and loved my colleagues, I became anxious about what my long-term plans were. By then, my own father, a retired Army, encouraged me to work as a nurse in the military and I eventually got accepted at Nurse Corps, AFP. I worked at Victoriano Luna General Hospital in Quezon City.

My significant other tagged me along in his application to work in the US. We saw an advertisement via the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2002 and attended the job fair, took assessment tests, and underwent seminars and interviews.

Our recruitment agent flew us to Saipan where we took the US Registered Nurse Licensing Exams. I was supposed to take a test with 350 questions, but mine had 75 situational assessments that prompted long deep breaths for each question. Although I ended the assessment with a headache and slept at the hotel afterward, I found out later that I passed the test!

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This step was significant in fulfilling our plan to work abroad.

Living the life of a Filipino nurse abroad

Many of us who have relatives working abroad have experienced opening the balikbayan boxes they send, or spending time with them when they vacation in the Philippines. I guess those memories evoked positive thoughts when recalling the whole family’s excitement when receiving goodies like corned beef, toothpaste, chocolate bars, and Guess watches to name a few.

When those relatives left us to return to their work abroad, we felt lonely and asked “when will we see them (and receive pasalubongs) again?

When it was my turn to go abroad, my family was supportive of my plans and wished me the best, happy for the opportunity, and prayed for my safety.

Objectively, my decision to work abroad was influenced by what I saw in my aunt’s way of life; they managed to get compensated well while serving others.

Fears of working abroad

Of course, I had my fears as I prepared myself for a career as a nurse overseas, too!

Among them is the common concern of whether we are a good fit in the new environment, can get along with new colleagues of different backgrounds, and feel bad, about leaving my family behind. There was also that feeling of uncertainty if I would be a good fit in my new workplace. I anticipate nursing work in the Philippines and the United States have different ways of working, facilities, and standards, so I was keen to make adjustments.

While some of these fears did not turn out as bad as perceived, the actual working experience was very challenging. In my first few weeks as a bedside nurse in the US, being assertive and confident was my biggest hurdle. The orientation process was a wake-up call that working as a nurse in the US doesn’t only take a body of knowledge but a whole heart ready to serve and care.

A career furthering Jesus’ healing ministry

I currently work as a staff nurse at the Pre-Admission Testing Clinic at St. Joseph Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix AZ. We help optimize pre-operative patients for their upcoming surgery. I guess my career, and I am speaking for all nurses and caregivers, is a fulfilling job as we get paid to serve people who are in need and feel grateful to be entrusted with doing so. It is a job that furthers the healing ministry of Jesus.

It’s also a challenging job because not all outcomes are according to our plans, and as entrusted professionals in healthcare, we also feel for the immediate family members, many of whom I communicate directly as part of my job.

Maintaining that work-life balance

Outside work, I take care of my two children and do the housework. Since my husband also is in the same field, we make it a point to make sure our shifts allow one of us to look after the kids. I guess this is one common characteristic of working parents: finding the right work-life balance.

I miss my family in Davao, and thanks to Internet technology, I often contact them via Facebook Messenger and do not require phone cards that used to be part of our monthly expenses during our first few years in the United States.

We also have a vibrant Filipino community in Phoenix and we have a few good friends we occasionally meet for social functions such as birthday parties or gatherings during festive seasons.

Long-term plans

I am a naturalized US citizen since 2012. I intend to stay here for good but also intend to keep my connections back in the Philippines. In fact, I am looking forward to visiting my family in Davao this December 2022.

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