Filipino Nurses in Canada: In Search of a Better Life

In this interview, Evelyn Calugay, a veteran Filipino nurse in Canada, shares her experience when she decided to move to Canada. She also shares her opinion about Canadian policies that are detrimental to foreign-trained nurses.


ALBERTA, Canada — The Philippines has been exporting nurses since the 1960s. Enticed by the promise of a brighter future for themselves and their families, Filipino nurses have since flocked to other countries in the thousands.

The pay may be higher where they end up, but they fall prey to exploitation, misleading integration programs and erroneous policy changes.

Such was the story of Evelyn Calugay, who went to Canada to escape the hard life in the Philippines. She shares her experiences and insights in this interview with Bulatlat.

Why nursing? What influenced you to take up nursing?

At that time I took the course (1960s), the government was continuously and systemically encouraging the population to develop skills in the health field. There was mass export of healthcare workers, mainly nurses, to Europe and North America predominantly nurses. This was period of the third wave of Filipino migration.

Pressure from my parents influenced my decision to take up nursing since they were the ones who were going to finance my studies. In the 1960s, diploma program was the only existing program in nursing available in universities. Toward the early 1980s educational institutions started upgrading nursing studies into a degree program until they eventually phased out the diploma program. This was in response to the demands of the importing counties of cheap labor. Needless to say, it turned out to be profitable for both sending and receiving countries.

In the diploma program, a student has to undergo four years of study, including two years of unpaid on-the-job training in a hospital setting five days a week, eight hours a day on a three-shift rotation, with the supervision of a hospital staff member and a university clinical instructor. There were a number of cases and number of hours required in each department. The yearly tuition fees were approximately P1,500 which includes board and lodging and hospital practice.

What were the concrete conditions that pushed nurses to work abroad at that time? Would you say these are the same conditions driving Filipino nurses to work abroad today?

Immediately after my licensure examination, I worked as a school nurse in a provincial agricultural high school in Eastern Samar to replace the school nurse, who was on maternity leave for a month. As soon as I received the result of the licensure exam, I headed back to Manila to work in a hospital. I worked for a month in a private maternity hospital in Quezon City. In that hospital, there was only one licensed nurse on duty each shift. The nurse had to be available to work at any unit she was needed such as the post-partum unit, prenatal observation unit, delivery room/operating room, emergency room and nursery room at a very meager salary, lower than in government funded hospitals. I worked for 10 years at the Quezon Institute, a lung hospital, before I left to work abroad. At the same time, I worked part-time in a clinic for factory workers for additional income.

Even then, our income was still not enough to provide a decent living for our three growing children. One contributory factor to this condition was the feudal family relations and the absence of social safety nets in Philippine society. The idea propagated by the Philippine government among the people was for family members to support each other for their survival. Taxes were used to protect the interest of the rich, powerful and foreign investors. It appears children are sent to school as a family investment.

The conditions that pushed me to work abroad are the same conditions that are pushing the nurses of today to work abroad. The Philippines’s political, economic and social underdevelopment are the major problems that push its people to work outside the country. These have intensified due to the imperialist policies that have been implemented several years ago. These policies have led to the present global economic crisis everybody is experiencing but which affects peoples of the Third World the most because of the continuous oppression and plundering of its natural resources by imperialist nations.

What made you decide to come to Quebec to work as a nurse?

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6 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every
    day. It will always be useful to read articles
    from other writers and use something from other sites.

  2. gud am sir/madam

    my mother work in quezon institute as a nurse for 30 years. she gave her loyalty to this hospital. the philippine tuberculosis society gave her a service award for working to qi for 30 years. and now she passed away last march 8 and now she was buried in holy cross in novaliches last march 12. i just want to ask if you could help me to contact some of her co-worker to let them know that my mama is already gone. the last time that i went there is that my friend is applying for a nursing position and the head of the said hospital knew my mom. my mother's name was ALICIA A. LUKBAN. she died cause of nosocomial pnuemonia, gi track bleeding and sepsis. kindly help me sir/madam i just want them to come on my mother's 40 days. i will inform you ahead of time to give you the details. kindly email me. thank you very much. MARIA BEATA LUKBAN-PARAS


  3. Hello,

    I try reading your newspaper online as often as possible and I am surprised by the quantity of negatives stories you publish. I am an immigrant to this country married to a Filipina and I do not hear my wife complaining about how she is treated in Canada. Maybe you should try talking to more people and find out why they like living here and how happy they are instead of only publishing stories from the few unhappy ones who write to you.

    Thank you for your attention,


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