We recently spoke with Monina Hernandez, MNurs (Hons), PGDipHSc, PGCertTT, RN, RM, to learn about her growth as a healthcare worker—from her humble beginnings advocating for community health in the Philippines, to becoming a successful author and nurse-academician in New Zealand.

I. On putting in time in community health

Can you tell us why you choose to focus on community health?

I think it is my personal values that brought me to community work. I grew up in a nurturing and supportive family environment; I have seen how my parents helped their own families, our neighbours, their workmates, and our own barangay. We even “adopted” a few struggling high school students and my parents let them live in our house for free.

My parents would always remind us that what’s important in this life is not much of what we earn, but what gives us peace of mind and inner joy, and in this case, I found both in helping other people.

What did you learn from your experience in community work?

Community work shaped the person that I am today – politically aware, environmentally conscious, and an advocate of social justice, and of course, clinically skilled.

When I see a patient, I do not only see him/her as an entity with organ systems. I see the patient as a member of his or her family, as a student or a worker or unemployed, as a person with beliefs and values.

Having seen and experienced the poverty of rural and urban poor Filipinos, and even the poverty of some of my patients in New Zealand, I learned that I should be an advocate for them. This means that as a nurse, if I see inequity and injustice, I should speak up for people, be that for patients or for co-workers.

Aside from putting in time for community work, you also reinvented yourself to be a licensed midwife, and an educator. How important is it for Filipino nurses to upgrade their skills?

Nurses should pursue other aspects of healthcare that they deem useful for their practice and their personal goals. In my case, I took up midwifery out of the need to address healthcare service gaps in rural communities, and for me to become an effective teacher of maternal and child nursing to my students.

Community work entails assisting in home deliveries in communities with very little resources. With the Philippines’ high fertility and birth rate, this is almost always a need in any province I visit.

Through this, I was able to improve my skills, gain new ones, and it gave me exposure to the realities of healthcare in various settings.

II. On working in New Zealand

New Zealand previously expressed their preference for the Filipino workforce in healthcare. What makes Filipinos so different compared to healthcare workers from other countries?

There are pros and cons to Filipino nurses’ characteristics that make us different from other nurses.

Filipino nurses’ hard work, kindness, cheerfulness, empathy, creativity, command of the English language, and willingness to learn work well here in New Zealand are just a few of our positive characteristics. This is apart from the fact that a lot of Filipino nurses who come here are skilled nurses from other countries as well.

The downside to being a Filipino nurse is the tendency to be passive, subservient, complacent and too fearful of those in authority. These, I think, are some of the factors why some Filipino nurses also become victims of bullying and employment-related issues.

Why do you think Filipino healthcare practitioners view New Zealand as one of the best places to practice their professions?

New Zealand’s population is diverse. This contributes to the people’s friendliness and open-mindedness. This alone makes New Zealand one of the best places to practice nursing. New Zealand also has a humanitarian state that makes basic health services and education free for everyone. This is good for those who would bring along their families especially those with young children.

The society in New Zealand is also family-oriented, and puts prime importance on love of family and the community. Add to these the fact that nurses here are politically aware and are organised. With collective effort, nurses are paid well and have access to funding for continuing education and post-graduate training.

What training did you have to go through to gain your New Zealand license?

To gain a license to practice as a nurse here in New Zealand, an internationally qualified nurse (IQN) needs to go through a competency assessment programme (CAP). I had mine for 10 weeks back in 2009. I got my license to practice at the end of that year and found a job immediately after.

Trainings do not end there. As nurses, we need to update ourselves regularly, thus I had to go through medication certification, pain management training, infection control education, patient safety workshops and a lot more. I still attend clinical updates up to this day to keep myself abreast with the progress of medical and nursing science, apart from pursing postgraduate courses in universities here in New Zealand.

What adjustments did you have to make when you first started working in New Zealand?

My major adjustments are not related to work, but related to adapting to the ways of life here in NZ. These include adjustments to the seasons, the weather, the right-hand drive vehicles, the roundabouts, and the local accent which I initially found difficult to understand.

As a new academic lecturer, I am still trying to learn the ropes of teaching courses under NZ’s Bachelor of Nursing programme. This is a three-year programme that is quite different from what we had in the Philippines. I graduated from the University of the Philippines-Manila where we had a competency-based four-year B.S. Nursing curriculum. I also taught in the same university for nine years before coming to New Zealand.

In terms of working conditions, how different is it in New Zealand from the Philippines?

There is a huge difference in work conditions between NZ and the Philippines.

First, healthcare facilities in NZ are better resourced. Resources make a huge difference in the delivery of quality nursing care. NZ hospitals are also better staffed compared to the Philippines. Patient load here is based on the acuity of cases so that nurses can focus their care on patients who need it most.

The doctor-nurse relationship in NZ is different as well. Nurses are treated as equals by doctors and nurses actively participate in the health team’s decisions. Nurses in NZ are empowered. We have nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, nurse consultants and others who perform specialist assessments and interventions and make decisions regarding outcomes of care.

Also, we are unionised. The old adage, “In union there is strength,” can be experienced by union members as they assert their rights and welfare and advocate for patient safety. Occupational health safety and mental health are a big thing in the workplace as well. Thus, nurses can avail of services related to these, plus other services that will help them realise their rights as workers.

III. On helping Filipino nurses through FNANZ

Can you tell us more about the Filipino Nurses Association of New Zealand (FNANZ)?

FNANZ is a non-profit organisation of Filipino nurses in New Zealand who work together to unify and build positive relationships between Filipino nurses and their employers, other organisations and government agencies.

Our organisation acts as the voice for all Filipino nurses in New Zealand by addressing welfare and work-related issues, anticipating trends in the workforce and by setting the agenda for work-related policies in the future.

For the past two years, we have conducted several free immigration seminars for Filipino nurses, raised funds for nurses facing challenging times in their lives, and supported nurses experiencing bullying and employment issues. We also released position statements that are vital in the practice of nursing in New Zealand, actively participated in consultation meetings with members of Parliament on employment and immigration issues, and raised the bar in relation to the visibility of Filipino nurses in the New Zealand society through mass media – radio, print, television and social media.

As the current president of FNANZ, can you give a message to other Filipino nurses working in New Zealand?

For those who are already working here, remember that you have rights, and that the nurses’ union – New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation (NZNO) is here to support you. The Filipino Nurses’ Association of New Zealand (FNANZ) is also here to support you. Some Filipino nurses think that they are doing well by being passive and subservient. Sad to say this is not true. New Zealand nurses are assertive, independent, critical thinkers who respect people’s rights and culture. They know when they need to assert their rights and how to advocate for their patients and their colleagues. Thus, my advice for Filipino nurses is for them to join the nurses’ union, to be politically aware, and to be active members of the community and the society. You did not just come here to work, you came here to live your life. You and your patients have rights. Fight for them. MIMS

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