Jessica Anne Filoteo

© Christian Sinibaldi

When I was in my 20s, I read the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. She talked about her travels in Italy in such detail that by the time I finished reading it, I decided that I wanted to do the same. I wanted to travel around Europe and experience their culture, and the best way for me to do that was to work and live in the UK.

Leading up to my job interview, I didn’t have any idea what the NHS was, but I was advised by colleagues to read up on it because I would likely be asked about it in my interview. At that point, it didn’t really matter to me where I worked in the UK as long as I got to step on English soil. It was only when I started working here that I came to understand what the NHS was all about and what it stood for.

Moving to the UK from the Philippines was relatively easy. A recruitment agency from the UK worked closely with one based in the Philippines, and whenever Trusts around the UK needed nurses, the agency arranged our interviews with the employers, as well as handled much of the logistics involved in getting the nurses across. I was one of the first cohort of Filipino nurses hired by Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust. They sponsored my visa, as well as shouldered some of my expenses moving to the UK, which later on were deducted from my salary throughout my first year with the Trust.

Leaving home and moving halfway across the world was one of the most terrifying, yet exciting, things I've done to date. When I took up nursing at my university, I always knew that one day I was going to leave my country for greener pastures, so it was really only a matter of time.

I already had a number of colleagues who had moved to the UK by then, and I was comforted by the thought that when I got here, there would at least be a few friends who could show me the ropes and keep me from getting lonely.

My parents were especially ecstatic, and proud. Proud of me and proud of themselves, too. I did the gruelling work of getting my Nursing degree, but they worked equally hard behind the scenes to ensure I had a good future, and seeing me off at the airport that day was testament to that.

We arrived in the UK towards the end of November and I remember being shocked by how cold it was. A few weeks later, we saw our first snow. My friends and I were so excited – we ran out of the flat wearing our shorts and flip-flops so we could take photos to send to our families!

One thing about the British culture that took me a while to get used to was how people were so polite and proper, so much so that I once had a stranger have a go at me for not saying “Thank you.” I was getting off the bus and didn’t realise he gave way for me to get off first and he gave me a proper scolding for not acknowledging it.

Filipino nurses are known for their warmth and compassion, as well as their strong work ethics. I believe this stems out from our upbringing, and from keeping close family ties in our culture. These are the values that I hold on to because especially in my line of job, these are the kind of things that make one not just a good nurse, but a great one.

The first few months upon arriving were definitely challenging. We arrived just at the start of winter, so that may have been my first experience with winter blues, too. It was cold, and grey, and it took a while for me to find the people I would eventually call my second family, so there were definitely some moments of loneliness. It was especially hard when I missed out on special occasions like Christmas, and birthdays. I’ve settled in very well since, but I do find that on days when I get sick, I couldn’t help but wish I had my mum around to make me soup and make a fuss over me like she used to do when I was a little girl!

I never wanted to be a nurse but looking back at my journey, it was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. Leaving the comforts of home and spending years as a nurse in the NHS – with all its ups and downs – has definitely moulded me into the kind of person I could only ever dream of becoming. Sometimes I can’t help but look back on how much I have grown as a nurse, and as a person. I think about that shy, timid, and terrified girl about to board the plane to the UK and I just want to tell her: ‘Girl, get ready for the biggest adventure of your life!’

The hardest moment working for the NHS was probably during the first wave of Covid. I was one of the hundreds of nurses deployed in the ITU at that time. It was scary, stressful, and that was probably the first time I’ve ever experienced burn out to the point that I absolutely dreaded coming to work and considered changing careers.

Working during Covid and getting through it is something that I am really proud of, and makes me feel like I have done my fair share of good in the world. The resilience of the staff I have worked with, the kindness and admiration strangers have shown me when they found out I'm a nurse, the strength and compassion I've managed to find deep in myself – all these remind me that there is a silver lining in every dark cloud in life.