Nurses From the Philippines Adjust to Life in Finland

A female patient lies unconscious in the operating theatre of the Eye and Ear Hospital in Meilahti in Helsinki. A tube is coming out of her mouth, and a metal rod is in one of her nostrils.

At the other end of the rod is specialist Paula Virkkula.
Next to her nurse Sheimabelle Duque from the Philippines extends sterilized scalpels, suture, rods and tubes. She hands over the right scalpel before the doctor even has a chance to ask.
It is what good surgical nurses do.
Soon afterwards, Duque is making tea in the kitchen of her apartment.
Standing in the doorway, laughing, is her roommate and colleague Raquel Torres.
The women are living in an apartment in the nearby Niemenmäki suburb of town, owned by the Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District. Both have the luxury of a room of their own.
In November they still lived in a two-room flat in Myyrmäki. Three Filipino women lived in one room.
It was crowded and there was no privacy.
It was too much for the adult women.
Duque is 37 years old, and Torres is 40. Both have two children back home in the Philippines. Duque’s are 10 and 12 years old, Torres’s children are five and ten.
Being separated from their children makes life in Finland difficult.
They cry over the homesickness at least twice a week, and at Christmas there was no stopping it.
The best and the worst days of the women’s week are at the weekend. Every Saturday and Sunday they are in contact with their families.
It is in those moments when the children get to show their mother their latest dance moves and perform their songs. Then they laugh – loud and hard, as is the custom in the Philippines.
When the laptop is closed, there is weeping in Niemenmäki again.
The most important reason why Duque and Torres are in Finland is the well-being of their children.
Each month they send more than EUR 1,000 back home. After rent and their Helsinki Transport travel cards, they end up with EUR 200-300 to spend for themselves.
Most of the remittances go to pay for their children’s schooling. The women say that free public schools are so poor in their country that they do not want their children to go there.
Their pay also goes to help other relatives. Torres is saving up for kidney surgery for her father. The medicines alone cost EUR 400 a month, and they have to pay for everything themselves.
Duque used to earn EUR 200 a month, which is the basic salary of a nurse in the Philippines. That was not sufficient for raising a family.
Both first went to Saudi Arabia to earn more money. The monthly pay there was about the same as it is in Finland, but only for the Filipinos.
The women said that their Finnish colleagues there earned nearly double the pay for the same work.
The women say that they are accustomed to getting less pay than others, and they are surprised that in Finland they are treated as equal colleagues, earning as much as Finnish trainee nurses.
As they gain competence, their pay also increases.
They find Finland to be an amazing country in other respects as well. Doctors and ward nurses are addressed by their first names: Markus, Vesa, Paula…
“They could be the same age as our parents”, Torres says with amazement.
There have been times when the women’s professional skill has been questioned. Once a surgeon threw a scalpel on the floor after Torres had accidentally extended the wrong instrument.
“I tried to say that I had been in Finland for only two months, and I didn’t know the names of all of the things.”
The biggest impression on the women was made by a colleague who helped them move.
“She carried our furniture and sent her husband to install the lamps.”
The women hope that they might get permanent jobs at the Helsinki University Central Hospital.
After that they want to bring their families to Finland.
“This feels like a wonderful country to live in.”

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