Brenda Deocampo, Lead Nurse/CXH-Acute & Specialist Medicine, shares her story for ESEA with a blog entry - Never a ‘first class citizen’.

I’d like to believe that my country, the Philippines, situated in the southeast of Asia, is one of the “top suppliers of nurses in the world”.

Not sounding patronising, I take pride in the quality of service, compassion, kindness, dedication and commitment that we instill in the realms of serving, saving and caring for humanity across the world. 

As a nation, our hospitality is tantamount to giving away our bed to a guest or stranger. Our caring disposition derives from a place of love for God and respect for our family. Our kindness originates from our cultural background of ‘Bayanihan’, a Filipino communal unity and cooperation embedded in our hearts and soul. Our resilience has developed from numerous adversities and calamities we’ve experienced being an underprivileged country. Our integrity is just our bloodline that runs in synchrony with breathing. These attributes combined, I guess, have established our unique brand as Filipino nurses, always available with a ready smile, rising above the challenge and going above and beyond. 

In 2000, when I came over to the U.K. as a young nurse, a colleague told me, “Be careful in all you do, because you’re a foreigner. As someone of different background you will never be a first-class citizen in a foreign land”. It was said, as friendly advice, with a cautionary intent of just watching your back as there was none to depend on, but yourself. 

During that time, I never heard of inclusivity, diversity and equality. Mental health at work was never a subject of discussion. The concept of staff professional development was something I was never aware of. 

My idea of working abroad was to earn a decent living and go home after a few years when I’m able to change the course of life into something more comfortable and pleasant. 23 years later, I’m still in the U.K. Not that I’ve never achieved my goals but I have decided to stay after realising what it truly meant for me to be part of the country now I have learned to love as my own. 

As a foreign nurse, I have always been respectful of the expectations around the nursing practice of this country. I had to unlearn some of my past experiences and harmonise my skills and competence to what is relevant, current and evidence-based. I learned to collaborate with colleagues of different backgrounds as I discovered, we are stronger together and we are more efficient collaboratively, celebrating each cultural heritage and each unique contribution to the National Health Service. 

I discovered many areas of the workplace where I can change and improve within myself and within the team that I belong. Supporting each other, coaching, team building, mentoring, away day, and celebrating important cultural events such as Southeast Asian week as well as Black History Month, the LGBTW Week (and many more) are some that made clinical work more fun than exhausting, more inclusive than exclusive more diverse than disjointed. 

My role as a lead nurse in medicine at Charing Cross Hospital is overseeing the general welfare of my department. As an internationally educated nurse, I have become more aware of the challenges of these newly-hired nurses from overseas when it comes to integrating themselves into the system. As a team, we bridge the gap between what they can offer versus what else can they offer if we invest in their continuous learning and education and create a clinical environment, conducive to their growth and development. 

Having to go through hardships of navigating through the system in my early years in the NHS, I have appreciated the significance of representation from people of different backgrounds. Policies and procedures that may potentially affect their clinical practice or even their religious beliefs or their cultural practices should be addressed as a matter of priority, and they should be able to speak up to raise their concerns. While equal opportunities is an ideal concept, it may not be as evident as I hope it to be - and I recognise it is a work in progress. 

I come to visit different clinical areas and often when I ask staff about career progression and professional development opportunities, I get responses like, “No one encouraged me”, or “There are senior staff around, and they should be the next in line for promotion” or “I am scared of interviews as my English is not exceptionally fluent”. It took me years to address this within me, I convinced myself that if I don’t try, I wouldn’t know I can progress -career-wise. If I don’t seek help, I will never learn. And if I don’t speak up, no one would know what I am capable of doing. That’s one side of the continuum, the other side is, as leaders and managers, we must create a workplace that offers this support - coaching/mentoring and active encouragement to those we know, can do more and be more. 

When I say to the team at meetings that there should be no limit to what we can achieve individually and collectively. I can see at the corner of my eye, some strange facial gestures now and then. Imagine, if long time ago, I limited myself to the idea of “I will never be a first-class citizen in a foreign land” because I’m a foreigner, then I wouldn’t have been able to explore what’s it like to be a vital entity of the NHS that I belong over two decades of nursing. In celebrating Southeast Asian week, let us celebrate our unique heritage and our significant contributions to NHS, to the U.K. and the service to humanity as a whole. 

Now I realised, there should never be such a category as a first, second or third-class citizen, whatever that might entail. If we open our minds, acknowledge our multiracialism and celebrate our common interests and appreciate individual contribution, we are a stronger, better and brighter workforce. 

If we allow ourselves to integrate, make the most of each other’s creative attributes and allow everyone to feel safe and honed despite our background and cultural differences, we are more dynamic, more effective and more united by our collective desires to be of greater service to the human race.