Former diplomat OPENS DOORS for Filipino nurses in Australia

Filipino nurses now have a bigger chance to work in Australia, with the help of the Australian Center for Further Education headed by educator Raul Hernandez, a former honorary consul general of the Philippines to Victoria, the most densely populated state in the island continent.

Hernandez is the chief executive of ACEF, which was established to offer high-quality education in the nursing and healthcare sector in Australia.

Hernandez, a Journalism graduate from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, helps Filipino and other foreign nurses obtain Australian qualification, enabling them to get jobs in the advanced country’s healthcare industry.

“Our school started only with the nurses. The main purpose of the school is to bridge the gap between our nurses and Australia’s license,” he says in an interview.

Like professionals from other countries, Filipino nurses have to be registered and accredited, before they can be eligible for employment in Australia, he says.

Hernandez says to get into the ACEF study program, the nurses should have a minimum of two-year experience for better employment prospects in Australia.

He says ACEF was initially designed to cater to Filipino nurses, but it has recently opened its doors to other nationalities, such as those from India, Korea and Africa.

ACEF also plans to introduce vocational level accredited program such as age care and disability care for those with medical background.  It aims to open the program by June, as a part of a medium-term plan to be a higher education provider after 2016.

Hernandez says running the school is not an easy task especially when it was just starting.  The school was opened by Peter Funtusoff, but when he passed away unexpectedly, Hernandez says he had to come in and take charge of the school.

At that time, Hernandez was the honorary consul general of the Philippines to Victoria.  He decided to take over the helm of ACEF in June 2010.

There was also a change in the Philippine government’s administration in 2010 and Hernandez felt he needed to move on from his diplomatic post.

The school was facing financial difficulties that time, due to its inability to get more students, as it had “few clinical placements” with Australian hospitals.

Raul Hernandez

“I only realized when I took over that there were very few clinical placements—the heart and soul of the program.  You cannot get students if you do not have clinical placements or partnerships with hospitals,” Hernandez recalls.

Hernandez took the task of convincing hospitals to team up with ACEF and his perseverance paid off because the school was able to get full clinical placements the following year.

“[Through] hard work, a lot of prayers…I was able to turn around the company in five months…And the next thing I did, I campaigned for more students,” he says.

Hernandez confirms that studying for accreditation in Australia could be expensive with tuition at around A$14,000 for the three-month program.

Nurses may have to spend a total of A$20,000 (P800,394) including other expenses. 

He says some financing companies offer nurses loans to get their accreditation in Australia but offer interest of 3 percent to 5 percent annually.

Hernandez says initially, he did not like the idea but when he analyzed it, the program will provide real opportunities for Filipino nurses to pursue their dreams in working in Australia.

“I analyzed the situation. I put myself in their shoes. I realized I’d rather sacrifice for two years than sacrifice a lifetime,” he says.

Hernandez says by making the sacrifice, this will open the doors for great opportunities to Filipino nurses.

Nurses who have finished the initial registration for overseas nursing program can apply for occupational training at the school. By enrolling for further studies at ACEF, nurses can also continue to stay in Australia and find a part-time job.

“We will sponsor you and after three months when you get your registration.  You don’t need to go back home but you have to be enrolled in the continuing program and you can work as an RN already on a part time basis,” he says.

Another opportunity for nurses is to study under specialized fields, he says.

Hernandez says while midwifery is considered a vocational field in the Philippines, “in Australia, you have to be a registered nurse then study midwifery as specialization.”

Hernandez says the government should look at huge demand for nurses overseas and the fewer students going into nursing in other countries.

“We should define the demand. Look at the demand here in the Philippines, and why they are not staying in the Philippines,” he says. “We talk about brain drain. We don’t want them to leave but if we don’t want them to leave, then let’s make the working conditions better. Let’s make salaries at least competitive with other professions and we should actually give more respect towards the profession.”

He says the Philippines has been consistently providing manpower overseas and “we cannot just put that on the side.”

The government, through its embassies, should be more proactive and look at labor demand overseas, he says.

Once demand is identified, the government should take steps to fill that gap, he says.

“We should look at the employment demand of countries like Australia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, UAE, USA and let’s put that in the total demand that we need and then we train people based on that demand here and overseas,” he says.

Hernandez says the gap in demand comes partly from the gap in standards among countries.

“We should understand that the gap between countries in terms of nurses is not mainly academics because nursing theories all over the world will be the same but what are different are the standards,” he says.

“Based on our experience in Philippine nursing, we do not have problems in theory but when it comes to practice, protocols in hospitals or healthcare facilities, there lies the problem,” he says.

For example, nurses in Australia have to make decisions for patients which they are not allowed to do in the Philippines, he says.

Hernandez says the government under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority should also improve the tools used for the training of workers.  “The tools they are using are obsolete,” he says.

“We should have a center of excellence in the Philippines that we should invest in...If we then become a center of excellence, hopefully we can demand higher salaries for our workers,” Hernandez says.

He says the education sector should team up with more private sector institutions and introduce more relevant courses that will generate high-quality employment.

“When we look at poverty alleviation, education is a very strong tool for poverty alleviation, but then education should start with vocational [training] but we should change our mindset on who does vocation,” he says.

Hernandez says in Australia, skilled workers are able to command higher salaries.

Hernandez, who wants to change the mindset of the people in terms of employment generation, believes that that there is no harm in trying new things, such as upgrading the level of training the Australian way.

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