1 June 2021

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Faced between having to deploy healthcare professionals abroad, and keeping them locally to help fight the COVID–19 crisis, what do you do? Emma graduate Cristina 'Krees' Castaneda (2015) finds it’s not that easy to draw the line:

A group of little egrets–white long-legged birds with black beaks–fishing in a river, from a yellow boat






Whenever you fly commercially, you often hear of this safety instruction reminding adults: 'In case of emergency, air masks will drop from the ceiling. If you are traveling with a minor, please put on your own mask before helping the minor'. It’s a reminder that for us to effectively care for others, we need to care for ourselves first.

In my two decades working with the Philippine international healthcare recruitment sector—my company deploys an average of a thousand medical professionals to the United Kingdom every year—I find myself having to toe the line countless times. This dilemma reached a critical point at the height of the pandemic, when we were working on deploying some 800 nurses to the National Health Service. As cases multiplied, the Philippine government temporarily suspended the deployment of healthcare workers, citing the shortage of medical professionals locally, and the need to secure their safety.

There is no doubt the local healthcare system needs nurses badly, with 13,000 medical workers going abroad yearly. In many parts of the world, healthcare workers are also needed—globally, we are already short by 7.2 million.

As a business professional and leader, I’m inclined to pay attention to the bottom line. I have a commitment to my clients, and I must deliver. But running a business is not always about profit. Beyond profitability, a leader should also have a sense of accountability and sustainability.

Reflecting on one of the important lessons I learned from Cambridge—to be an effective leader, what codes of conduct am I held to account—a professional code? a moral code? or laws and regulations? —it made me think: Should I prioritize sending nurses abroad when the bigger fight is here in my own backyard? How can we help other countries when we’re also struggling back home?

I wanted to find a win–win solution, that would enable me to help Filipino nurses find employment overseas, but also ensure our local hospitals do not end up crippled in the process.

My team and I started working with hospitals. I arrange for these institutions to hire nurses that can train and gain experience with them for a few years. These nurses get valuable training and experience with a premier hospital, while preparing for the UK NMC registration requirements and, later, getting hired at a UK hospital. Meanwhile, the partner hospitals can fill their vacancies, and are given enough time to train and on–board fresh graduates. This arrangement is well coordinated, so that the hospital’s workforce isn’t impacted, while ensuring that we don’t hinder individuals from finding better opportunities abroad.

Now that the country’s COVID–19 vaccination program has started, there’s an even greater need for healthcare professionals who can help with the vaccination process. We’ve been able to sign up nurses, who are processing their papers for jobs abroad, to volunteer at vaccination centres accredited by the Department of Health, while waiting for their deployment schedule overseas: a win-win approach.

I continue to work with the international healthcare recruitment sector here, and sharing what I learned from Cambridge—a sense of accountability and sustainability, and looking at things beyond maximizing shareholder value.

[Image above: The plan of the government and private sector to convert this bird site (home of migratory birds) to an airport is already in play. The birds are little egrets, and I have captured them as a team looking for fish from a boat. It was heartbreaking to witness that they didn't find anything].

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