“Creating Partnership for a Preferred Future” was the theme of the Philippine Nurses Association of America (PNAA)’s 26th Annual National Convention, held last summer in Kansas City. The event drew about 150 nursing professionals from as far away as Hawaii to this culturally diverse city famous for its historic Jazz District, barbecue, the Kansas City Monarchs Negro League baseball team and the Hallmark greeting card company.

But what exactly is a “partnership for a preferred future?” In her opening remarks, PNAA President Mila Velasquez, MN, RN, CS, APRN, BC, explained that “a preferred future means creating what we desire to happen. Together we can collectively shape our own future, and that future is limited only by our vision.

“Partnership–building coalitions and alliances with others–is very important in these times,” Velasquez continued, “because you can no longer live as an island. Partnership means bringing people together to create a network of leaders. As Filipino nursing professionals, we are a very diverse group. We are all Filipinos, but we speak different languages and dialects, we belong to different organizations, we come from different schools. We have to respect that diversity within our organization and learn to accept each other’s views.”

One of the most important partnerships the PNAA is involved in is the National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations (NCEMNA), the “association of associations” formed in 1998 to provide a unified voice of advocacy for all nurses of color. The Philippine Nurses Association of America became a member of the coalition under the leadership of PNAA past president Lolita Compas, MA, RN, CEN. Compas and Velasquez currently serve on NCEMNA’s Board of Directors, along with past PNAA presidents Pete-Reuben Calixto, BSN, RN, and Seny Lipat, MA, RN.

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NCEMNA President Betty Smith Williams, DrPH, RN, FAAN, was one of the convention’s keynote speakers. In keeping with the concept of bringing diverse nursing professionals together to create a network of leaders, Williams, a founder and past president of the National Black Nurses Association, was inducted into PNAA as an honorary member in 2003. She commented that her husband had served in the Philippines during World War II and had been very impressed with the country and its people.

In her address to the convention attendees, Williams presented her own perspective on what it means for minority nurses to shape their own future through partnerships such as NCEMNA. “I believe that we, as ethnic minority nursing organizations, have to set the agenda and take care of what we want to happen in terms of achieving a healthy society for our [minority] populations,” she declared. “We cannot let someone else define that for us–we must be the definers.

“Eliminating health disparities in communities of color is a national imperative.
NCEMNA believes that ethnic nurses must educate the broader nurse community to provide culturally competent care,” Williams told the PNAA delegates. “You are the experts who can teach other nurses about how to respect your elders to whom they are giving care, how to communicate with them, how to understand their cultural traditions concerning health and death. Remember, 90% of all nurses in the U.S. are not nurses of color. They don’t know what we [as minorities] need. We have to let them know.”

Challenges for Immigrant Nurses

One of the convention’s most thought-provoking education sessions was “Foreign-Trained Nurses: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities,” presented by attorney Reuben Seguritan, JD, Esq., general counsel for PNAA as well as several other Filipino American associations. A specialist in immigration issues, in the 1970s he served as legal counsel for the National Alliance for Fair Licensure of Foreign Nurse Graduates, helping them successfully halt the deportation of hundreds of foreign-trained nurses who had failed their U.S. licensing exams.

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According to Seguritan, the Philippines are the world’s largest supplier of foreign-trained nurses to the U.S. and other countries that are currently experiencing severe nursing shortages. To meet the huge demand for nurses, this relatively small nation has 429 schools of nursing and some 80,000 nursing students. Unfortunately, Seguritan noted, this unprecedented worldwide need for Filipino nurses has created a number of serious problems for both the Philippines and the nurses it exports.

First of all, there is what Seguritan referred to as “the Philippine Nursing Brain Drain.” Not only is the country losing its best and brightest nursing talent to other parts of the world, but the burgeoning demand is fueling the growth of substandard nursing schools that are furiously churning out an oversupply of nursing students. As a result, said Seguritan, hospitals in the Philippines are becoming overwhelmed with a huge glut of student nurses–far too many to handle in clinical rotations.

As for the many Filipino nurses who are emigrating to the U.S. in hopes of earning a better living than they could in their homeland, some are falling victim to unscrupulous recruiters and employers who are using fraudulent tactics to lure them to America. According to Seguritan, these scams include exorbitant placement fees, misrepresentation of employment terms, unfairly low salaries and failure to provide promised recruitment incentives once the nurses arrive in America.

Why is this happening? This type of fraud is often hard to detect because of the distance between the Philippines and the U.S., Seguritan explained. For instance, it is difficult for nurses in the Philippines to verify that the promised pay really is the going rate in the United States. Furthermore, he said, many Filipino nurses are so eager to come to the U.S. that they will simply sign anything.

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Fortunately, there are ways for immigrant nurses to protect themselves from being exploited, Seguritan emphasized. For example, they can have a legal professional review the employment contract before they sign it and they should avoid recruiters that do not have an actual address but only a P.O. box. Nurses who come to the U.S. and discover that they are victims of fraudulent recruitment practices have options such as suing the employer for breach of contract and filing a complaint with the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), he added.

For more information about the Philippine Nurses Association of America, visit the PNAA Web site at www.pnaa03.org.

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