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What’s the best thing about working abroad? What would make a successful OFW return to the Philippines? Four Filipino health practitioners answer these questions and more in this candid interview.

Published

By Regina G. Posadas

Dr. Marion Tamesis-Pagano Pediatrician and dermatologist in the US Currently practicing at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City Working in the US since 2001

Dr. Marion Tamesis-Pagano Pediatrician and dermatologist in the US, Currently practicing at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, Working in the US since 2001

What do you like most about being an expat medical professional?

There are many things that I like about being a medical professional. As a physician, I get to participate in a patient’s preventive care, educate individuals on how to stay healthy, help alleviate their symptoms, and address their medical concerns.

Having done my residency and fellowship training in the US has opened opportunities for me to learn from the experts in my chosen field.  Working at a tertiary care medical center like Columbia University has given me access to cutting edge therapies as basic science research gets translated to clinical practice right in “my own backyard.”

 What is the most difficult or challenging thing about it?

Two of the most frustrating things about being a physician in the US are dealing with insurance companies and the growing bureaucracy involved in patient care. For example, an insurance company oftentimes will dictate what medication can be prescribed to a patient. This is likely based on cost (and with which pharmaceutical company it has a contract) rather than good medical evidence. Patient visits have also become more cumbersome with increasing documentation requirements and government regulations on health care. In turn, physicians end up spending more time typing on a computer than interacting with patients.

What would make you give up your job/life overseas and return to the Philippines?

That’s a difficult question to answer. Only time will tell. For now, I call New York my home. This is where my husband and I will live for the foreseeable future. Having said that, my parents, siblings, and friends in Manila make me want to come and visit the Philippines often. The tourist destinations all over the country that I have yet to explore and the burgeoning Filipino food scene are added reasons to keep on coming back.

What advice would you give new Filipino graduates or new board passers in the medical field?

My advice to new Medical graduates is to never forget why they went into Medicine. I went into medicine because I wanted to help other people and make a difference in people’s lives. Nineteen years after my graduation from medical school, I am still guided by that goal as I make choices in my professional life.

What do you like most about being an expat medical professional?

Dr. Daffodils Guevarra Physician in the UAE Currently working as branch manager for Prime Medical Center in Dubai Practicing in the UAE since 2007

Dr. Daffodils Guevarra Physician in the UAE
Currently working as branch manager for Prime Medical Center in Dubai, Practicing in the UAE since 2007

What I like most about my job as a physician in the UAE is I get the chance to treat fellow Filipinos utilizing the best possible medical care the UAE has to offer. Because insurance coverage and access to healthcare is well-established in the UAE, most Filipinos get treated according to internationally accepted practice guidelines, something that is a challenge in the Philippines due to rising financial costs of healthcare and limited insurance coverage for average Filipinos. A Filipino with diabetes and hypertension in the UAE, for example, can be prescribed drugs here, which he may not be able to afford to buy if he were in the Philippines. If he were in the Philippines, he would be given alternative and cheaper drug combinations, which may not be the ideal treatment protocol for his condition. I’m really happy to note that I get the opportunity, on a daily basis, to give the best possible medical care to our “kabayans.”

One thing I also love about my job is I get to feel like I am in the Philippines only, because most of the nurses are Filipinos, most of the patients are Filipinos, and I can speak, act, and be so Pinoy in a foreign country.

 What is the most difficult or challenging thing about it?

The heavy workload is the most challenging thing about being a doctor in another country. Most physicians and other healthcare professionals here in the UAE work split shifts, eight hours a day, six days a week, including holidays. You’re talking about 48 hours of work a week, with just one day off (Fridays are off days because it is a day of prayer and rest in Islam). Imagine waking up late on a Friday and realizing that half of the day is gone and that the next day will be the start of a new work week. And then there is the issue about Christmas. I work during Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Like most healthcare professionals in the world practicing outside the Philippines and especially in the Middle East, our work duties require us to work even on Christian holidays. It all boils down to finding ways to create a healthy work-life balance, and to manage time wisely.

What would make you give up your job/life overseas and return to the Philippines?

This is a difficult question to answer. One thing about working abroad is it gives a person the opportunity to create more financial options for him/her and his/her family for the future. Given the better financial compensation that working abroad brings, and with good financial planning, a person can create an environment to help increase his or her retirement nest egg. So going back to the same question, what will make me go back to the Philippines is when I feel that I have enough passive income to retire in relative comfort.

 What advice would you give new Filipino graduates or new board passers in the medical field?

My advice to new doctors is that they should find time to update themselves regarding financial planning. Compared to other professions, a physician earns later in life due to longer medical studies, diplomate trainings, and other educational pursuits. We should learn how to invest our hard-earned money wisely and as early as possible. This is especially true for OFW health care professionals (and OFWs in general). Much of our days are spent outside of the Philippines and far from loved ones. We just have to ensure that long-distance living is worth the pain and troubles of being far away from home and family. The worst thing that can happen to an OFW professional is to work for decades abroad and then to retire to the Philippines empty-handed.

One thing I also want to share to newbie doctors out there is that being a doctor abroad is not about where a doctor graduated from or if he graduated top of the class. There are a lot of doctors to choose from, and here in the UAE, a lot of hospitals and medical care facilities offer top-of-the-line world-class healthcare facilities. One thing I realized is patients will always look for a doctor who, aside from being a doctor with good credentials, will go beyond medicine and who will have a more personal approach to patient care. Patients will always go for a doctor with a good heart. Even if it means waiting for two hours just to see the doctor. Please practice medicine with a heart.

What differentiates a good doctor from the rest is that a good doctor practices good patient care. A patient is not just someone who will need a lab test and a prescription. A patient also happens to be a human being coming to your clinic with negative emotional feelings, too, just because he is sick. More than being a learned physician with good clinical skills, sometimes a patient needs a doctor who they feel truly and sincerely cares about them.

It is a difficult thing to achieve—to smile and be pleasant and gentle and patient, especially if you see 30 or more patients a day—but that is where the challenge lies.

Rodolfo D. Lastimosa, Jr., PTRP, RN, RM, MN, CRN, NCII, RPN, RAI-C Registered practical nurse and resident assessment coordinator in Canada; also a registered physical therapist, nurse, and midwife in the Philippines Working in Toronto for six years now as a nurse in the community health care setting

Rodolfo D. Lastimosa, Jr., PTRP, RN, RM, MN, CRN, NCII, RPN, RAI-C Registered practical nurse and resident assessment coordinator in Canada; also a registered physical therapist, nurse, and midwife in the Philippines, Working in Toronto for six years now as a nurse in the community health care setting

What do you like most about being an expat medical professional?

I believe that nursing is one of the most interesting and growing careers available today, and I wanted to do something in my career that is challenging, interesting, and makes a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis. In the nursing profession, you deal with many aspects of patient care, and I enjoy the variety in the routine. Now that I am working as a community health nurse, I have had the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures, which has strengthened my ability to multi-task and offer the best care to my patients. Moreover, dealing with patients and their families, and helping them through what is often a difficult time is extremely satisfying for me. Most important, I chose nursing as a career because I love learning new things. As a nurse, I am always challenging myself to keep current on medical trends and training so that I can provide the best care to my patients.

 What is the most difficult or challenging thing about it?

I prefer to look at difficulties as challenges, and I enjoy conquering challenges. I remember when I first started as a nurse and working in a Long Term Care facility for elderly patients, I had a patient whose family was very difficult to communicate with. They were somewhat combative when they would deal with the staff and always insisted on paging the doctor when they had a routine question, even though they were meeting with him on a schedule during the duration of the patient’s stay. Later on, I was able to gain the trust of the patient’s son, and I scheduled a daily meeting with him to update his father’s condition and response to therapy. He appreciated having a point person and became much less demanding of the doctor’s time.

 What would make you give up your job/life overseas and return to the Philippines?

To be honest, nothing. I believe that I am following my Canadian dream. Although leaving to make a living outside my home country was a difficult decision to make. It took me a good deal of courage, determination, and strength of mind to leave everything I’ve grown to love and cherish for a long time. What I am and have today is because I took the risk to fulfill my dream. I truly believe that the decisions I made were guided by God above. No matter how hard it is, I always remember to keep moving forward in life. I believe that living in Canada is a blessing for me because even if I am here, I am able to help my family, relatives, friends, and most especially the people in need in the Philippines.

 What advice would you give new Filipino graduates or new board passers in the medical field?

Three things: courage, perseverance, and action.

We all know that graduating from any medical/health care profession and passing the licensure exam take a lot of courage. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to pursue this path. Believe in yourself and in your own abilities.  If you do not have yet plans or goals after graduation or after passing the exam, start today. Write down your goals, both short and long term.

Perseverance in life is essential if one is to realize his goals and achieve success. It is the act of persisting to do something in spite of challenges, obstacles, and disappointments. You must have the stamina to stay the distance. You must have faith and belief that you can succeed and meet your goals someday. It will ensure that you have the motivation to continually strive toward your goal regardless of the obstacles you come up against.

Lastly, action. Know your goals in life and act on your dream. Don’t just leave everything to prayer. As the adage goes, “Do your best and God will do the rest.” Prayer and faith will always be your most valuable weapon. After passing your exam, don’t spend more time to take a vacation. Apply to the different facilities or institutions because competition is very stiff. You should act and contribute to improve your country by practicing the values of honesty and integrity. Be professional.

To conclude, God is good. I’m so blessed that I have been surrounded by people who were there to support me in pursuing my goals. It’s always reassuring when you have them to lean on during hard times. Thus, let us keep moving forward in life.

Liza Gay M. Ferreol Nurse in the UK, specializing in critical care Currently a full time agency nurse working in different hospitals in and out of London Practicing in the UK since 2000

Liza Gay M. Ferreol Nurse in the UK, specializing in critical care Currently a full time agency nurse working in different hospitals in and out of London, Practicing in the UK since 2000

What do you like most about being an expat medical professional?

The best thing about working in the UK is the annual leave entitlements, which can be used and arranged for the whole year for a more relaxed way of living. I also enjoy free health care, even though I have to pay for the medicines. I love the variety of people I meet and the different Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU) cases I encounter every time. It’s what excites me to work every day.

What is the most difficult or challenging thing about it?

Having worked for the NHS for nearly 17 years, I have fully embraced the nursing care in the UK, its triumphs and constant battles. In my current work, I get to experience and compare different policies and priorities of ITU hospitals I have worked with. The challenge at first was unfamiliarity with the staff and the place. You always feel like you’re running like a headless chicken because you don’t know where to look for stuff and how to handle your colleagues. Fortunately, I like meeting new people. I seem to get along with most people easily and it helps to have a “kababayan” working in the unit as well. It’s really a relief to be able to speak in your own language with your colleagues sometimes, although it’s not allowed to speak in your own language. The language barrier is usually a challenge of working in another country. It’s a good thing Filipinos are fluent in English. It’s American English we know, however, so even if we do speak English, many locals here still don’t understand what we’re saying. The pronunciations are different. We have to articulate the “O’s” and basically not curl other vowels before they can understand what we’re saying. The biggest challenge of foreign professional nurses is to constantly prove to them that we’re good. We know we’re better but there is still this cloud hovering that we will always be second class citizens and most of the hospitals I know prioritize giving senior or management posts to white people (British or Irish) than anyone else… a hush hush reality.

Another challenge in my current job is the long commute to work. I have to wake up very early to prepare and go to work and my travel time is normally over an hour. Tube travel is just like our LRT. London tube is cramped and the buses are late.

 What would make you give up your job/life overseas and return to the Philippines?

Enough money to be able to live well in the Philippines—meaning eat, drink, send my daughter to good schools until college without working too hard or not at all. A decent sized house for my small family and enough to be able to go on holidays as a family. A safe environment. Good and free health care is a must, too.

 What advice would you give new Filipino graduates or new board passers in the medical field?

First of all, congratulations to all new Filipino graduates including the medical/healthcare professionals and their families who supported them financially, physically, and emotionally. Dream big things but remain grounded. There will be lots of challenges so always continue to improve your skills and knowledge. Faith helps immensely in coping with challenges. Be ready to leap great distances to make your dream a reality. Learning should never stop. Get your skills ready and up to date by reading the latest journals or research which schools or hospitals can help and guide you. Don’t be content with what senior people teach you but challenge what they teach and discover on your own. Gather lots of experience because it’s a different world out here. Take every opportunity to learn new things and trends especially in the medical or health field. Be guided by the values that our elders have taught us and never lose sight of who you truly are. Here, it doesn’t matter whether you graduated magna cum laude or you’re the board topnotcher. They put more weight on your inner self, your attitude toward others and toward your work. So for now, think of what truly makes you happy and feel special and work on it. It’s not always about money. Money can’t buy happiness anyway.

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