Who would have thought that the Philippines is the largest supplier of nurses in the world, with a quarter of the total overseas nurses coming from the country. Even in the United States, almost a third of all foreign nurses are Filipino. How did this Southeast Asian island nation achieve this feat?
Its history dates back to 1898, when the United States brought improvements in education, public health, and infrastructure to the Philippines through its assimilation policy. A shortage of American nurses during the malaria and cholera outbreaks in the Philippines triggered the recruitment of local nurses as Volunteer Contract Nurses Aides. They were educated in American medical practices and English, preparing them to work in American hospitals.
In 1903, several Filipino nurses were sent to the United States to study through the Pensionado Act. They became pioneering Filipino nurses in America, and some of them decided to stay. A wave of Filipino nurses began, following the American dream.
During World War II, the demand for nurses increased, but after the war ended, many American nurses left the profession. To address the shortage, the United States recruited English-trained Filipino nurses through the Exchange Visitor Program.
In the 1960s, the nursing shortage returned to the United States. The US government looked to the Philippines for answers and provided opportunities for Filipino nurses to become US citizens. Hospitals in the US actively sought Filipino nurses, so temporary migration turned into permanent migration.
Subsequently, the growing demand for nurses opened up opportunities for migration of Filipino nurses to the United States. In the early 1970s, dictator Ferdinand Marcos saw an opportunity in the number of unemployed youth and the high demand for nurses in the US.
Marcos also realized that there was a high demand for nurses in the United States, especially from healthcare institutions that were specifically looking for Filipino nurses. In an effort to address domestic economic problems, Marcos promoted overseas migration of Filipino labor, including nurses.
In the face of continuing economic problems, Marcos' approach became a survival policy measure. The overseas migration of Filipino nurses was driven not only by social and economic mobility, but also by the desire for stability and security amidst growing socio-economic inequality and political instability in the Philippines.
In 1982, the Philippines established the Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to regulate the recruitment and placement of Filipino labor abroad. Filipino workers send large amounts of money back to their families, and the government aims to maintain this income stream. As a result, the Philippines is the largest nurse-sending country in the world, with nearly 20,000 nurses leaving the country every year.
Not only the United States, other countries such as the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Spain, and Germany also rely on Filipino nurses to fill their nursing labor shortage. This organized labor export system provides migration opportunities for Filipino nurses and meets the global need for trained and dedicated nurses. This also makes the Philippines the largest sending country of nurses in the world.