Why are there so many Filipino nurses in the U.S.?

In this ad in the 1969 issue of the Philippine Journal of Nursing, Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center urges its former exchange visitor nurses from the Philippines to return for permanent employment. (Image courtesy of Catherine Ceniza Choy)

By Anne Brice/Berkeley NewsGrowing up in New York City, UC Berkeley ethnic studies professor Catherine Ceniza Choy remembers seeing a lot of nurses dressed in their crisp white uniforms. She and her mom lived in an apartment building near several hospitals, so seeing health workers in the community wasn’t unusual.

But she also noticed that many of the nurses were Filipino.

Her mom was an immigrant from the Philippines. And when they’d go to Filipino events, it was common to see a lot of nurses.

“I think when I was growing up, it was just part of the familiar landscape of home,” Choy says, “and what it was like to be in New York City. I didn’t really question it as a child. It just seemed natural or normal to me.”

Years later, as a graduate student at UCLA, Choy began to wonder: Why were there so many Filipino nurses in the U.S.?

So, she began to research the subject and soon realized there wasn’t much information about it. Most of the literature was focused on how the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 caused an influx of foreign-born nurses to the U.S., including those from the Philippines, who were helping to fill the critical shortage of nurses after WWII ended.

“But that explanation didn’t answer the question regarding why the Philippines because this immigration was open to professionals and to potential nursing immigrants around the world,” she says. “So, why the Philippines?”

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