Not Just a “Room Nurse”


What were you thinking, Mrs Villar? What “room nurse”?

It is not just a case of ignorance; it is a prime example of how clueless some people are about the work of nurses. It is also a blatant disregard of how the Filipino nurses had helped save a nation, and gained the respect of other nations with their compassion, intelligence, and competence.

Cynthia Villar, a senatorial candidate in the Philippines, ignited a firestorm of angry retorts from nurses and the general public after her thoughtless remarks to a question by broadcaster Winnie Monsod in the February 23 episode of GMA News TV’s “Pagsubok ng mga Kandidato”.

The show aims to provide the viewers “with insight into how the candidates think and more importantly, how well they think” by presenting tough leadership questions to the senatorial candidates.

The candidates had to think on their feet, without the benefit of speechwriters or paid advertisements. Because they were limited to a one-minute response and would not have the time to embellish and to give a “politically-correct” answer, what you get is similar to the “word-association” game used by psychiatrists. That means, the interviewee gives more or less a gut response. A reflection of their true feelings.

Monsod’s question was: “How can you reconcile your desire to help the poor at pagpanig ninyo sa may-ari ng nursing schools na gusto sanang ipasara ng Technical Nursing Committee at ng CHED?” (How can you reconcile your desire to help the poor and your siding with the owners of nursing schools which had been ordered to close by the Technical Nursing Committee and CHED)

The question was in reference to Villar’s role as then Chairperson of the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education, to intercede between the nursing schools and CHED (Commission on Higher Education) which had ordered the closure of about 20 substandard nursing schools. As a result, none of the schools were closed, a business decision to protect the interests of the school owners.

“Hindi naman kailangan ang nurse ay matapos ng BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) kasi itong mga nurse ay gusto lang nila maging room nurse, o sa Amerika o in other countries, e ano lang sila, young parang mag-aalaga. Hindi naman sila kailangan ganoon kagaling.” (Nurses do not need to finish the BSN program, because they just want to be room nurses; in the US or in other countries, caregivers. They do not need to be that efficient.)

Understandably, the nursing profession reacted quickly and explosively. It is very disappointing that an elected official has such disrespect against our nursing profession that she would think we can “get by” with limited education because we are only “room nurses”. The implication was that excellence should not be a nursing standard. Once again, nurses were relegated as ‘second class citizens”.

Villar’s response to the controversy was a mumbo-jumbo of excuses about time restriction. “The 30-second limit for me to answer the question posed on the news program was too short to give the complete details surrounding the issue. I hope that this statement will clarify the issue. I am sorry if it has created confusion. Thank you.”

She is still clearly clueless how nurses are vital to the medical field. Instead of accepting the responsibility about her disrespectful and denigrating attitude towards nurses, she claimed she was misunderstood. She still could not explain her concept of a “room nurse”. I wonder how she faced her own daughter, a nurse herself, and told her that she was JUST a “room nurse”

I do not wish her to get a dose of her own medicine, if she lands under the care of one of our own. I believe that when faced with difficult patients, a real nurse will still uphold our oath of service; that we still give the best of care, no matter what.

I must admit, I thought of how the Washington, DC politician Marion Barry disparaged Filipino nurses in one of his speeches and then had reversed his bigoted opinion about Filipino nurses when he found himself under the care of one.

I want to give Mrs. Villar (and other clueless persons like her) a re-education of what a nurse is, and what it takes to become a nurse.

Mrs Villar, I AM A NURSE AND PROUD TO BE ONE. I was a product of a Filipino educational system that had placed value on competence and commitment to excellence. My student years at various military and public hospitals provided me with an invaluable hands-on experience so unlike what American student nurses experience today due to restrictions from a legal-conscious society.

My years of clinical experience here in the United States and my advanced studies had brought me to where I am now, a clinical nurse specialist. This is not a time for false modesty, but rather just pride in my journey, and for all others who had pushed the Filipino nurses to the top of their game.

The Filipino nurses abroad are not mere hand-maidens to the physicians. We had gone a long way from being unrecognized in our field, we are now collaborators in the care of our patients. We had helped train many medical residents, and we had, in fact, intervened so that our patients were not harmed by wrong medical orders.

Among our midst are advanced practice nurses in many specialties: nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, managers/ supervisors, clinical nurse specialists, educators, entrepreneurs, nurse attorneys, administrators, and nurse authors (ahem).

Those nurses who choose to remain at the bedside as staff nurses are well-regarded by our peers as competent and compassionate professionals. Conscious of the delicate responsibility of patients’ lives on their hands, nurses deliver safe care to the patients, using critical thinking every single day. The frontline nurses are consummate multi-taskers, who have to think on their feet, even as they advocate for their patients. Saving lives is an everyday occurrence, thanks to their vigilance, dedication, and intelligence.

Filipino nurses abroad had risen as shining examples of this noble profession, even as nursing heroes. In his last State of the Union address, President Obama singled out Menchu Sanchez, a Filipina nurse who initiated the safe transfer of sick babies out of a flooded hospital during the height of the hurricane.

So, what can you do to make up for this transgression? Let me count the ways by which you can truly apologize and not just pay “lip service”:

1. Elevate the standards of local nursing schools by making them accountable for higher nursing licensure passing rates. Do not side with nursing school owners who provide substandard training. An educated nurse is a safe nurse.

2. Enact laws to prevent the abuse of the nurses who pay to be “volunteers”.  Absurd. This is not right at all.

3. Provide scholarships to deserving nursing students. Not just for BSNs, but also Masters and doctorate programs.

4. Improve the working conditions for nurses in local hospitals by providing responsible representation for nurses’ rights.

5. Investigate unscrupulous nurse recruiters with their exorbitant fees. Streamline the hiring process for overseas work.

6. Sponsor a nurse to provide informed and expert consultation in important health service committees.

7. Sponsor a bill to increase the base pay for nurses, as they deserve.

But before all these, you must really understand how it is to be a nurse. Volunteer to shadow the nurses in different fields as they continue to persevere in their chosen profession despite the odds stacked against them. And maybe, just maybe, you will truly understand.

We are much more than just a “room nurse”, Mrs. Villar. Filipino nurses deserve the respect that you obviously did not feel. Your remarks left a sour taste in our mouths, but we will continue to shine, in the Philippines and overseas.

Thankfully, you do not define our profession. We do. We make a difference in other peoples’ lives.

And this is how Winnie Monsod looked in disbelief at Villar’s remarks.


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About Jo Cerrudo 39 Articles
Clinical Nurse Specialist in NYC. On a new journey of discovery. Author, "Nursing Vignettes", published Aug. 2012 (available on Amazon). E-mail: [email protected] Blogs: