Tuesday, September 6, 2016

'All anyone wants is a chance'

Claudin Victorio has spent the last few months working as a patient care tech in CoxHealth’s Urgent Care. Years ago, she had worked as a nurse in her native Philippines and she’s currently studying for her NCLEX exam so she can begin practicing here. 

Claudin Victorio has seen firsthand the challenges and immense rewards of starting a career, and a life, in the United States.

When Claudin Victorio heard that a new project will bring 100 highly qualified international nurses – many from her native Philippines – to CoxHealth, she was thrilled.

She knows what it’s like to be a nurse with a dream of practicing in the United States. She’s experienced the power of starting anew in the U.S. and she’s excited to see others share that opportunity.

“There’s a saying in the Philippines that once you get to the U.S., you will want to kneel and kiss the ground,” she says. “That’s how badly people want to be here. I spent 27 years of my life in the Philippines. I have my friends there. I don’t have kids, but I have my nieces and nephews. I decided to leave all that and take a chance.”

Claudin arrived in the United States a year and a half ago. Through her extended family, she made a connection with a woman who had lived the dream she was hoping to achieve for herself.

Marivic Fernandez, who immigrated from the Philippines in the 1970s, had built a career at CoxHealth. When she connected with Claudin, she encouraged her to consider coming to Springfield.

Claudin, known as “Claud” to her friends, took her advice. In Springfield, she soon found a job, and a mentor in Marivic.

Back home, Claud had earned her bachelor’s degree and worked as a nurse. Nursing salaries are low in the Philippines – the degree provides an income that covers basic needs, but it can be difficult to save for the future.

So, Claud had left the medical field and spent eight years in the more lucrative world of banking, both to support herself and help her nieces and nephews. All the while, she knew she would return to nursing and come to the U.S. if she had the chance.

Marivic is in the unique position of understanding exactly what Claud is going through. In 1979, she left the Philippines to work with an international nursing agency. She had job offers in Zambia, Iran and West Plains, Mo. The other positions offered more money, but they paled in comparison with the United States.

At age 21, Marivic arrived in Missouri, alone and thousands of miles away from her family and friends. During her one-year contract in West Plains, she met a colleague from Burge School of Nursing, now Cox College, who helped her get a foot in the door at CoxHealth.

“Springfield was such a great community for me,” she says. “I liked the warmth of Springfieldians.”

She worked as a float nurse and in Med-Surg, before finding her calling in a dialysis unit.

“I liked the patients and it became a joy just to report to work. It was truly my home.”

From hearing Marivic’s stories, Claud knew CoxHealth was where she wanted to be. Since she was coming on her own, rather than through an international nursing agency, she was responsible for transferring her own credentials and passing the NCLEX. With credentials in hand, she’s working as a patient care tech in the Urgent Care. Now, with help from Nursing Administration, she’s preparing to take the NCLEX so she can return to nursing full time.

“CoxHealth has given me more than just a salary, they gave me a chance I’ve never had – something I’d wanted to have eight years ago,” she says. “I’ll always be thankful because of this chance.”

Marivic says those chances can be life-changing. In the 1980s, she worked her way up in dialysis, eventually serving as assistant nurse manager. It was on the dialysis unit that she met her husband, nephrologist Dr. Gary Kell. When Dr. Kell’s mother became ill, Marivic left her nursing role to care for her. She and Dr. Kell also began volunteering their time to help Filipinos who were new to the U.S.

“Because of my experience, I always wished I had a family that could show me the ropes and who could have been there when I was homesick or lonely,” Marivic says. “I made a conscious effort to help Filipinos who would come my way.”

Claud says the support from Marivic and Dr. Kell has been a driving force for her.

“I call them my parents,” she says. Dr. Kell encouraged her to pursue nursing and he reminded her that anything is possible. “He inspires me every time I talk to him, he’s my superman. At some point I want to become a doctor because of him.”

They strongly recommended CoxHealth, and Claud says the support she’s received here makes it clear why.

“I love it here – and I love the teamwork!” she says. “Melody (Smith) is the first nurse at Cox who believed in me and opened the door for me to do this. After I take the NCLEX, I want to work in Urgent Care because of the chance she gave me.”

While Claud works toward the nursing exam, her brother, Clyde, has also joined the CoxHealth team as he prepares to enter an associate’s program for nursing. Marivic says there’s no better place to begin a long-term career.

“Cox is where I had all of my professional growth. I tell people, if you stay with CoxHealth, you will grow with CoxHealth,” she says. “CoxHealth is a very solid company and they’re great employers.”

CoxHealth has always taken innovative approaches and the international nursing project is just the latest example of how we grow our workforce. The project supports our patients and colleagues, and it creates a powerful opportunity for the nurses who will soon call Springfield home.

“People don’t understand that by coming here, we now have a chance,” Claud says. She points out that in the Philippines, home ownership is rare, cars are status symbols and retirement planning is out of reach for most of the population. Having a stable income and the ability to plan for the future is an empowering experience.

For Claud, seeing the life Marivic and Dr. Kell have built is a daily inspiration to achieve her dreams. Once you’ve lived it, Claud says you can’t help but cheer for other hard-working nurses who are dedicated to pursuing the American dream.

“The nurses coming to CoxHealth will have a chance for a good future. I’m just happy that they have a chance. That’s all anyone wants, a chance.”