Edmund Tabay is the highest-ranking Filipino nurse in the UK. He spoke to Madeleine Scott about the challenges he faced early in his career and why he is proud to be a nurse
Edmund Tabay is the highest-ranking Filipino nurse in the UK. He first came to this country in 2001, and with a mission in mind.
‘I was taught from a very early age how to be resilient’
What he wanted, he says, “was to have a greater knowledge of how nursing is practised and its influence on the delivery of care”.
“I know there’s a universal technical definition for what nursing is all about, but of course the way we do it [in different places] is slightly different, because it’s been influenced by culture and people’s backgrounds.”
He’d prepared himself for new experiences with an open mind and heart, but Mr Tabay says that, yes, initially, he did go through a bit of a nursing culture shock.
“I had a patient, where the relative [asked me], ‘could you keep my father for the next two days, because we’ll be watching football?’ I found it quite difficult to understand that!”
That is because Mr Tabay is from Tubungan, Iloilo, an island in the Visayas region of the Philippines. Iloilo is where he grew up, where he earned his nursing degree (at West Visayas State University), and where he spent the first five years of his nursing career.
He says that in the Philippines, “[when] you’re a patient, your relatives… they’re very much a part of it”.
But Mr Tabay knew that to reach his goal – to gain that greater knowledge – he’d need to “adapt to the expectations of… not [just] patients…[but]to ensure as well that [he] catered to the expectations of the relatives.” Even if their expectations included leaving dad in the hospital so they could watch football.
Mr Tabay also faced challenges beyond the realm of initial culture shock: “When I came to this country… people [would] always say, you know, if you’re a minority, then you would not normally get the benefit,” – the promotion, the job benefits, the credit.
Mr Tabay struggled with self-doubt, too. There was a period where he didn’t think he had the qualities needed to move up in the profession and become a senior nurse. But did he ever consider giving up?
“I was taught from a very early age how to become resilient and how to be able to deal with adversity.”
“I [had] to prove that even if I didn’t train here, even if I come from a different background, I’m able to do the job.”
And able to do the job he was: as the deputy chief nurse of the Buckinghamshire Healthcare Trust, Mr Tabay is now the highest-ranking Filipino nurse in the UK. This is not an accomplishment he takes lightly.
“This has put me in a position where I need to be able to influence and motivate nurses who are not only from the Philippines, but also nurses [of minority background] in the UK.”
That means mentoring minority nurses, and offering them encouragement when it’s needed; it means leading by example – even as deputy chief nurse, he regularly takes on clinical shifts, “to be able to understand the challenges and difficulties that your nursing colleagues experience on a day-to-day basis.”
And it means new opportunities: he’s been asked to serve as a motivational speaker at a few upcoming conferences, to share his story at hospitals staffed largely by Filipino nurses.
Mr Tabay is blazing a path for the next generation of nurses – and for an NHS that celebrates diversity and inclusion at each rung of the ladder.
This success can be chalked up to Mr Tabay’s flexibility, compassion and resilience. But it is likely it also stems from a genuine love of nursing – Mr Tabay says that nursing has been his passion since he was “probably about 12 years old”.
“I’m very proud to be a nurse. I’m still very proud of my profession… because it’s making a massive impact in terms of delivering care.”