Philosophizing the nurse, nursing the philosopher

ALL RIGHT, my students are bright, as we boast of having one of the finest nursing programs in the country. Their training is rigid, and the selection process very tight. But, at the turn of the semester, I feared that my students would take my subject lightly. I took pains in urging them not to treat philosophy as a “minor subject”, for there must be some reason why it is a curriculum requirement.

After a month, my students submitted their phenomenological reflections. My heart broke when I discovered that many of them wanted to pursue something else, but were forced by their elders, who finance their studies, to take up nursing instead. It is sad that our ailing economy kills the dreams of the young. Older people are infected with bitter pragmatism, and few of them are as supportive as the father in a PLDT commercial (“Kung saan ka masaya, anak, suportahan ta ka”).

Our class had an engaging discussion on Martin Heidegger, who posits that when man confuses being with having, the origin of desire is located in external possessions: money, gadgets, and whatnot become the source of happiness; deprivations lead to feelings of sadness and frustration. In this case, the human-being has identified her self with objects of passing significance, and has forgotten her own existence.

“At the moment, what essence do you find in your existence?,” I asked them. It is not very difficult to figure out: e$$ence. It does not take a sociologist to understand why. Our government is a joke, our economy a disaster, and only God knows what other tribulations await our benighted land. No wonder that many professionals are now taking up nursing—doctors, dentists, physical therapists and, yes, even lawyers. Some of them have been my students, older than I am, and resigned to this nation’s dim tomorrow.



Universities and colleges endeavor to prepare students for life through God-centered education and service, and this is where we anchored our discussion of Gustavo Gutierrez’s Liberation Theology. Gutierrez proposes that what motivates Christians to participate in the liberation of the oppressed “is the conviction of the radical incompatibility of evangelical demands with an unjust and alienating society. They feel keenly that they cannot claim to be Christians without a commitment to liberation.” The emphasis here is on praxis (action), for no self-respecting Christian can be a spectator to social unrest.

Many students seem to forget their fundamental mission. The line: “I want to be a nurse because I want to care for the sick and needy” we only hear of now in the question and answer portion of the Search for Little Ms. Philippines. Caring for the sick has been reduced to a necessary hassle in the quest for the good life.

We do not need more nurses. We need more caring nurses.

My students showed an encouraging response. They pledged to offer their services in marginalized communities where medical practitioners are needed most. This they promised to do for a considerable amount of time after they earn their license. The pledge, of course, is not binding, and I cannot ask the foreign embassies to bar their visa applications if they don’t comply. Such act, nonetheless, shows us a glimmer of hope.

I know that it is difficult to speak with finality. Ate Hedy, my sister, held the same convictions when she was a young nurse teaching at a university in Laoag City. Aware that many families have been destroyed because of overseas employment, she opted to stay, live a life of moderation, and build a happy family. Ate Hedy is in now in New Zealand.

I look at nurses who have left, not with judgmental eyes, but with compassion. There’s Ate Mona and Weng in California, Auntie Elsie and Uncle Gerry in Hawaii, Mohini Dasi in Saudi Arabia, Ate Joy, Jemy, and Jenny in New Zealand, and other relatives I hold so dear in more parts of the world. The Philippines is always in their minds, and they send me nice presents every Christmas.

Many people say that I can afford to be idealistic only because I don’t have children yet. The moment you raise your own family, they warned, you will abandon your youthful arrogance; philosophy cannot build you a home, it cannot send your children to decent schools.

Am I losing the crusade? I don’t know, but when Kit, one of my students, fell in love with Friedrich Nietzsche, the feeling was ecstatic. Discussing the enigmatic German philosopher with his friends, even during night-outs, Kit’s collection of Nietzsche’s books puts to shame my own. Also, whenever I organize debate societies, most of those who join are nursing students. I learn a lot from these folks, and I grow with them. My best friend Alona, a former colleague who now teaches in Ateneo, reminds me to be thankful for having a job that allows me to earn a living while being enriched by amazing people.

There are a few bad times, though, such when I caught one of my students reviewing for his anatomy class while I was delivering a lecture on Marx. This prompted me to ask: “What good does it do to you when you find the parietal bone, and lose your own self?” And the message got across.

I sure have my own moments of weakness, too. Such when one of my students asked, “Sir, kuntento ka na ba sa ganyan? (Are you contented with your situation now?) “What do you mean?”, I asked back. “Yung ganyan, walang sariling bahay, padorm-dorm, walang kotse, (You live in a dormitory, not having your own house, your own car), he clarified.

I am not asking my students to be exactly like Socrates, who loved to go to the marketplace to see the things he was happy without. Neither am I leading them to the footsteps of Diogenes, a cynic, who lived in a barrel, and owned nothing but a cloak, a bread bag, and a stick, reasoning that in having very few possessions, his happiness won’t be easily stolen from him.

But, I urge my students to be steadfast in their search for meaning so that at the end of the day, they can look back with neither resentment nor regret. The way to meaning, of course, is not without a price. But it is the only way a truly existent man should take.

Now, I should stop evading the question. “Sir, kuntento ka na ba sa ganyan?”

The answer I cannot give with enough certainty. But one thing I am sure of: I just love to teach philosophy, and I thank my students for the life I live now. I thank them for letting me wake up each morning with a sweet smile on my face.

It is a business both daunting and rewarding to preach the gospels of Socrates, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Gutierrez, in a world facing the most difficult of times.

11 Comments

Filed under Education, Migration, Philosophy

11 responses to “Philosophizing the nurse, nursing the philosopher

  1. katrina

    Ang mga magulang talaga ngayon ay nangangarap na magkaroon ng mga anak na nurse na pwede nilang pagtrabahuin sa ibang bansa para naman magkaroon sila ng magandang buhay.
    Ang mga nurses sa Pilipinas ay nagtratrabaho nalang sa ibang bansa dahil ang sweldong natatanggap nila doon ay sadyang mas mataas at siguro ay doble o triple pa ng naibibigay ng gobyerno dito sa Pilipinas. Maghihirap at maghihirap lang sila kapag dito pa sila magtratrabaho dahil hindi pa siguro magkakasya ang kanilang matatanggap kapag dito sila magtratrabaho.
    Patuloy na mauubos ang mga nurse dito at mga doktor kapag hindi pa maitataas ang kanilang sweldo. Pero wala naman tayong magagawa dahil ang ating ekonomiya ay bumabagsak na at kinakailangan rin naman nilang gumawa ng paraan para mabuhay at maitaguyod ang mga pamilya nilang naghihirap dito sa Pilipinas.

  2. Herdy La. Yumul

    Ang paghahanap ng kabuluhan sa buhay ay hindi monopolyo ng alinmang propesyon o bansa. Ang mahalaga ay kung paano hinuhubog ng trabaho mo ang iyong pagkatao at kung paano nito itinuturo sa’yo ang mga kasagutan sa mga maraming mong katanungan bilang tao.

  3. diana

    nowadays most of the parents na ang pumipili ng kukuning kurso ng mga anak sa kolehiyo. karamihan sa kanila ang pinipili ay pag nunurse. pero diba nila alam na marami ng mga graduate sa nursing na walang trabaho? most of the parents decide naman talaga. “sundin ang mga sinasabi ng matatanda dahil ito ang mga nakakabuti sa’yo” panu pag mali na ang kanilang pinapagawa. well paanu if di mo linya ang pagnunurse? kapag umagsak ka naman maraming sermon ang naririnig diba? bakait nga ba ganyan sila. i know sa abroad malaki ang sahod ng mga nurse, mas makakaahon nga sila sa kahirapan kaysa dito. mas lalo ka pa nilang pipiliting mag nurse lalo na pag may kamag anak kang nagtratrabaho o naninirahan sa abroad.

  4. diana jean

    ..bakit ba mga magulang ang nadedecide nang kursong kukunin?…. ala na ang freedom na mag choose…. ala ka namang magagawa kundi sundin sila. pero diba marami na ang mga naggraduate sa nursing noon maraming demand pero ngaun kaya…

  5. ryan corpuz

    Ganyan naman talaga ang mga ibang magulang eh, just because they were the one who finance the study of their children sila na rin ang pipili kung anong kurso ang kukunin sa college at karamihan pa sa kanila Nursing ang gusto dahil in demand daw ito at malaki ang sweldo lalo na kung mag a-abroad ka.Sabagay di natin sila masisisi dahil para sa kanilang mga anak din naman ang iniisip nila. Pero hayaan naman natin silang magdesisyon ng kursong gusto nila kasi in the first place sila naman ang mag-aaral at hindi ang mga magulang…

    Isa pa, di naman sa kagandahan ng kurso ang basehan para magtagumpay ang isang tao. Nasa sa iyo na yan kung paano mo bibigyan ng direksyon ang iyong buhay…

  6. r0dz

    Marami akong kakilala na naging biktima sa ganitong sitwasyon. Dalawa sa tingin ko ang direksyon ng buhay ng mga ganitong tao. Yong isa ay maaaring maging maganda ang buhay pero hindi masyado masaya. Yong isa nman ay d matapos-tapos ang pag-aaral kasi nga walang interes kaya sa bandang huli wala ring katuturan ang pagpapaaral sa kanya. Syempre talo din nman ung tao.

    Sana nman kung tutulong nman ang isang tao, dapat wala nang hinihintay na kapalit. Kung magpapaaral ka rin lang e sana yong gusto ng tao at hindi yong pansariling kagustuhan lang. KAhit pa gaanu kataas ang sahod, wala ring kabuluhan kung ang pansarili mung kaligayahan at kagustuhan ay kontrolado nman ng iba.

    • Herdy La. Yumul

      Sad to say, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. No such thing as free lunch. Strings always attached.

      This world thrives on compromise.

  7. Eaglepower

    Im just 22, fresh grad, R.N, coming of a reputable nursing school,..

    Stories of our young people, leading this way (the nursing career) never seizes… it comes from all walks of life, different situation, off variety of circumstances.

    As childrens, the students cannot really do anything (unless they have that strong conviction and be self supporting, to leave their parents and head to the career they want to take- question is, how many KNOW what they are made off?)
    The problem is with the parents.
    A mothers instinct is to find a potential in her child and bring the most out of it, NOW theres the prob. how many mothers have this instinct?

    Its still too early though to give up in the future of these “de-railed”students. However, a step is needed to be taken.

    We are now living in a so called- Asian Century, whats disturbing is that we are not considered to be Asians, for we are PACIFIC ISLANDERS. And if to be connected with Asia, we are the “SLUGGARDS of Asia”.

    So, How are we going to face the future with this?
    As for me, after my fathers death (during my second year in college) I focused on the goal of being a competitive nurse, to acquire every knowledge i may met along the way and live as wise with regards to my experiences. I will be an instructor someday, and my burden will be on the future of next generation of nurses. How a filipino Nurse can make a difference, in serving his country and have a PASSIONATE contribution to those who are sick and need of CARE.

    NURSES… What is the ESSENCE of your EXISTENCE?

    • Herdy La. Yumul

      You’ll make a very good mentor, Eaglepower. Am really proud of you. Keep the idealism burning. 🙂

  8. tita lita

    eaglepower…you can be a nurse anywhere and you can still give the same TLC either in the philippines, US or any part of the world. the only difference is the pay scale.nursing is really a hard job but a very rewarding profession specially in the psych field i get satisfaction whenever i see some of my patients doing well and and i see them in the street and say do you remember me? i was a patient of yours awhile back and you helped me a lot you use to tell me “get your sh** together.thank you so much.,i have a family and a good job now…

  9. joma

    As of now, there are lots of Freshly graduate students and at the same time, passed their board exam who don’t have work. Most of them are the nurses. Well, my mom and my sister are taking up nursing right now a I’m scared they won’t get job when they finish it. But then, I thank God I didn’t obey my parents when they forced me to take nursing. Good luck and congrats to the new RN!

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