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International Nurses Bring Quality Care to Phoebe Patients


Suiting up in personal protective equipment to deliver a meal to a COVID-19 patient on an 8th floor acute care unit at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, nurse Darie Espiritu could hardly be farther from where he grew up in the southern Philippines.  Yet, he couldn’t feel more at home. “Working here at Phoebe is amazing,” Espiritu said.  “The slogan says ‘Phoebe Family.’  It’s really true.  It’s not just a word or a statement.  It’s really true, if you work here at Phoebe.”

Espiritu earned his nursing degree nearly 16 years ago, working as an ER nurse in his native country before spending six years as an occupational health nurse with the oil industry in the United Arab Emirates.  Two years ago, he was one of the first international nurses to come to Phoebe through a partnership with Passport USA, the leading provider of U.S. career opportunities for internationally-trained registered nurses.

“I’m not considering nursing as just a typical job.  It’s a noble profession,” Espiritu said.  “I want to hone my skills, my professionalism, my career here at Phoebe.  As long as Phoebe needs me – as long as the patients need me – I will be staying here.”

That is the goal of Phoebe’s international nurse program – to attract highly-skilled and experienced nurses who end up staying at Phoebe long-term.  “The nursing shortage is a crisis impacting hospitals all over the United States,” said Evelyn Olenick, DNP, RN, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Chief Nursing Officer.  “At Phoebe, we are constantly looking for innovative ways to recruit and retain talented nurses.  Our international nurse program is showing tremendous success, and that is a great benefit for our patients.”

Passport USA has placed more than 1,700 nurses in more than 135 hospitals in 35 states since 2004.  On average, those nurses have nearly 10 years of experience before coming to the U.S., and 86% of them accept full-time jobs at those hospitals after their contracts through Passport USA end. 

“Hospitals across the country are reliant on contract nurses, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased that reliance.  Those nurses typically sign 13-week contracts.  This program is more cost-effective and provides us with greater staff continuity.  Our international nurses sign three-year contracts, and we hope to transition those nurses into more permanent jobs at Phoebe at the end of their agreements,” said April Little, MSN, RN, Phoebe Director of Central Staffing.

So far, Phoebe has brought in 23 Filipino nurses through its partnership with Passport USA, with 68 additional nurses currently in the hiring process.  The nurses work in various units at Phoebe’s main campus in Albany and at Phoebe Sumter in Americus.  All of them were educated in English using U.S. textbooks, and they speak English fluently.  They have earned bachelor’s degrees in nursing and have at least two years of experience as a bedside nurse.

“These nurses are ready to provide expert care on day one.  The main thing they have to learn is our electronic medical records system, but we pair each nurse with a preceptor to bring them up to speed,” Dr. Olenick said.  “Our international nurses aren’t taking jobs away from local nurses.  In fact, they relieve some of the stress and workload our other nurses often face, and they have been a great compliment to our outstanding team of Phoebe nurses,” she added.

Passport USA handles all the immigration paperwork and provides an international employee supervisor (IES) who spends a year working with each nurse to make sure he or she adjusts well to life in the United States – helping with everything from setting up a bank account to finding housing.  “I’m really grateful she’s here,” nurse Reycheal Cadua said of her IES.  “I can ask her anything.”

Cadua chose to come to Phoebe because she was impressed with the labor and delivery unit.  “I wanted to be a labor and delivery nurse because I’m also a midwife in the Philippines, so I wanted to pursue that career path,” Cadua said.  “We’re like a family (in the labor and delivery unit), especially the nightshift.  They always ask me to go for breakfast after work.  They’re really nice to me.  I feel really comfortable around my coworkers, in the workplace and out of the workplace,” she added.

Recently, Cadua earned the prestigious DAISY Award that recognizes extraordinary nurses.  “I just want to thank Phoebe,” Cadua said tearfully after being surprised with the award by officials from Passport USA.  “I get recognition, but this is my first time getting an award like the DAISY Award.  I’m really thankful and happy.  It means a lot.”

Darie Espiritu has also earned a DAISY Award from Phoebe and Passport USA during his time in Albany.  “I’m thankful for that patient who nominated me to be a DAISY winner, but I’ve been doing that for all my patients,” he said.  “I think you need to be genuine with your patients.  My goal is that I’ll treat all my patients like my own family, so that’s what I’m trying to give to all of my patients.”

Espiritu is currently training in Phoebe’s intensive care units and hopes eventually to become a certified nurse anesthetist.  He’s grateful for the professional development opportunities he has gotten at Phoebe.  “Phoebe really gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said.  And Phoebe will provide that same opportunity to other international nurses as part of its strategy to grow the Phoebe Family, reduce dependence on short-term contract nursing staff and build the best possible team of nurses committed to making every life they touch, better.