Workers find ways: The volunteer nurse

Daniel Rudin
Volunteer nurses pay hospitals to work

PAY TO WORK. Erik says volunteer nurses like him pay hospitals to work. Photo by Daniel Rudin/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Two years after graduating from nursing school in 2011, Anthony still can’t find a job.

“Actually, from the beginning, before I graduated, I was thinking how would I be employed faster,” said Anthony. With more graduates than available jobs, this was not the case.

“If you read the news, more than 200,000 nurses are already unemployed or underemployed,” he noted. 

He signed up at the state-owned Lung Center of the Philippines to be a “professional volunteer nurse.”

“I paid more than P10,000 for that,” said Anthony, who initially thought the internship would help beef up his resume and land him a job. “I was thinking, ‘How will I have an edge on those other nurses who just recently graduated and passed the board exams?'”

Two years later, Anthony is still a volunteer.

Professional Poverty

Erik Bernardo, Alliance of Young Nurse Leaders and Advocates (AYNLA) Bulacan Chapter Mayor, described “professional poverty” among nursing graduates like themselves like this:

“It’s when we as nurses — because of our number, because of the graduates and the large number of registered nurses — are being exploited by medical institutions.”

Although it is now illegal, newly graduated nurses still find themselves paying in order to work.

Their work load is identical to that of paid nurses, but few are hired by their hospitals after the internship ends.

Their plight should discourage others to “take up nursing in the first place,” said Erik.

Nursing Commercialized

He blamed businesses cashing in on the nursing boom that went bust and the policy makers for the problem.

“Back in 2005 there was a boom of nursing schools. They were commercializing nursing, saying that, take nursing, go to US, go to Canada, Australia.”

By 2005, the number of nursing schools spiked to 441, according to the Scalabrini Migration Center. The same center calculates the oversupply to be around 140,000 nurses a year.

The Philippines supplies 25% of the world’s international nurses.

Anthony and Erik are in a rock and a hard place. Their volunteer experience is not counted as paid work experience despite the misleading claims of hospitals.

“They are looking for nurses, qualified nurses, trained nurses, with two or more years of paid experience,” sad Erik.

Losing Hope

After several years of volunteering, Anthony found himself burnt out before he had even entered the profession.

“You know, for example, before you go to bed you are really really tired,” said Anthony, searching for words to describe his personal experience. “For example, you are so tired you just crawl going to bed and you are thinking, ‘Oh my God ,I’m waking up the next day and I would be doing the same thing without being paid’.”

“At the back of my mind I really know that this volunteer experience will not count when I go abroad,” said Anthony.

That’s when Anthony found out about the Alliance of Young Nurse Leaders and Advocates, International (AYNLA).

Nursing advocate

Bernardo describes AYNLA as a 3-year-old Manila-based nursing organization with an advocacy platform.

“We are partnering with the Department of Health and providing legislation and policy making, and pushing for a rationalization plan so that government hospitals would open up their positions.”

In addition to pushing for more work opportunities for nurses, AYNLA has successfully lobbied for public hospitals to rewrite their rules on volunteerism.

The recognition of volunteer nurses has become a step towards eliminating “professional poverty” from the profession.

The Lung Center of the Philippines now complies with legislation regulating nurse volunteerism. –

Editors’ note: This is part of the series, Workers find ways: Tara, break muna.

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