Nursisms 1: The Struggles of Being Asian in A non-Asian Workfield

I just celebrated my second decade in nursing and looking back, healthcare has greatly evolved. From terminologies, integration of technology to patient care itself. Personally, one thing never changed, that is the caring aspect of the profession.

I became a nurse because I considered it a calling and the best stepping stone for me to be a better doctor. Nursing was my training ground to develop excellent bedside manners. My nursing experience has shown me that the simplest gesture of kindness from a “white coat” possesses more healing powers than the most potent antibiotics.

After graduating from medical school, I started my career as a general practitioner/ER physician in the Philippines. It was a different time and a different place but the picture of suffering was the same. Most of my patients were wallowed in poverty and cannot afford most of lifes’ basic necessities so health care was a least priority. My practice involved fostering relationships with drug companies, hospitals, politicians and other doctors and nurses to benefit the impoverished patients that come my way. I knew I could do more given the proper resources.

When the opportunity to migrate to the United States as an RN presented itself, I grabbed it without hesitation. A wise Jesuit priest once told me that “One cannot help others without helping ones’ self”. As an Asian from a third world country, I am not one that turns away from the American dream. As a Jesuit-educated individual and health care giver, it was a chance for me to help others in a much larger scale.

But, like everything else in life, it was not a walk in the park. The application process itself was so arduous that involved so much time, energy, tears, finances, numerous tests and tons of paper works. But once earned, it is something to be proud of. I became a legal immigrant through hard work and perseverance. My head is held high because I came to this country on my own merit. I took the long but the right road.

Coming to America, my journey to fulfill my Ignatian quest to be a person for others has been reset.

The role reversal from being the MD to an RN was not void of its challenges.  It took a lot of getting used to. One of the hardest part was psyching myself from being the one writing the orders to actually carrying out the orders. But “caring for the sick” was my guiding mantra, so the transition was easier than I anticipated.

Being a foreign health worker, I had my fair share of adversities to overcome. First was the language barrier. I had to re-train my brain to think and speak the English language the way the Americans do. Granted that English is the secondary language in the Philippines and all our books and Media are in English, textbook English is totally different from conversational English. Not to discredit the hurdles of accent, intonation and pronunciation, I realized the importance of passing the TSE ( Test for Spoken English ) exam as a requirement for any foreign worker to migrate to the United States. Now my left and right became east and west. Still working on my “he-she” debacle…

Next was culture and race. Being from a far away land, the word discrimination or a stereotype was a remote reality for me. It was something that I have only read or vaguely heard about.I never really thought that it would impact me as a person or as a care giver. But sadly, it did. I never expected to be the receiving end of a racial slur, or be stereotyped or get discriminated. It was an awakening when patients pass judgment on my professional capacity by the shape of my eye or the color of my skin or the way I speak. What was even more surprising when it came from my co-nurses/co-workers. This profession eat their young or whoever is new or foreign. My first few years working in this country were like a constant fraternal initiation. It was an unspoken but implied right to passage to get all the difficult assignments/cases/patients. Everyday felt like a prove-yourself-for-being-in-this-country reality show.

These harsh experiences were like a hard pill to swallow.But instead of wallowing in self pity and pessimism, I decided  to perceive them differently. I turned each slander into a challenge and a weapon to better myself. I read more, I studied more and most all, I gave more. I tuned my ears deaf and offered my other cheek for each racial slap.

They became my motivation to still continue to offer the best care that I could give because I know any human being deserves it despite his/her behavior or belief. I chose to fight this harsh truth by proving that I am an educated person capable of forgiving ignorance. Some people are the way they think because of the environment they are exposed to. I refused to go down the path of rage and misery but looked beyond my wounded ego and worked even harder to spread goodness. The world needs more kindness than hatred.

To be a nightingale is a special mission. It is not for the weak and the weary. Going to work is like going to war. I help to fight sickness, sadness, pain, discrimination and a lot of many unknowns. I put others needs above mine. I swallow my own pride. And yes, I sacrifice a lot for the greater good.

The decades has made me resilient through the tides of change. I have learned to be more tolerant , to be more forgiving and to be more patient. I have managed to look past any anger or negativity and truly understand what a person is going through without passing any judgments.This outlook has helped me discover more meaning into what I do. I have become a much better care giver because of it.

My constant motivation is making an impact in someone else’s joy because their brother is able to walk again or someone’s mom is free from agonizing pain. Nursing has taught me versatility and a chance to play a myriad of roles. A confidant to a husband who just learned that his wife of 48 years has cancer. A proxy daughter to a mom who lost her family in a tragic accident. A student of an Alzheimer’s patient whose reminiscing his days as a professor in Columbia University.The only friend of a recovering addict. I have seen the faces of pain or sadness but I have also witnessed moments of pure joy and magic.

My greatest honor is being a part of another person’s recovery. Big and small, the rewards that I get from helping others becomes my own personal miracles.

Even after 22 years, I still believe that taking care of the sick is the noblest job on earth. I still want to change the world one act of kindness at a time. I know that in this battle, the odds are high and the outcomes may not always be favorable but if another persons’ life is a little bit better because of me, I know I am winning all the time.


Disclaimer: This article is intended to amuse. The opinions are solely mine. In case you're itching to say something, please let it all out! I'm all ears...

3 Responses to Nursisms 1: The Struggles of Being Asian in A non-Asian Workfield

  1. You have such great talent through writing Lou and every word in your article is true to the last words. Thanks for sharing and I could relate to this…being a nurse in a foreign country and the struggles we went through just to be here. Many hurdles and sacrifices. By the way, your selfies are somewhat familiar 🙂 … those were the days.

    • Thank you My…You have a keen eye! I know that a lot of us have experienced the same plight but sadly, our folks at home don’t get to see the behind-the-scenes of what we go through because all they choose to see is the glamour of the green money. These were my few precious bedside nursing pictures!

  2. I feel that this is something thats typically forgotten about in my opinion. Appreciate your
    blog and I’ll be sure to follow your progress

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