Work communities praise nurses from the Philippines – the city will continue to recruit care sector employees from abroad

A group of Filipino nurses has studied and worked in Helsinki for eight months now. Their experiences are good, and they have only received praise from their work communities.
Four nurses with smiles.
Joan Bainco, Nikki Mensalvas, Jenelyn Malana and Joydit Gebray had time to pose for a photo during their break. Gebray came to Finland years ago from Ethiopia.

They are laughing, but only good-naturedly! Three Filipino practical nurses in training who moved to Helsinki last spring are having a break in the break room of Itäkeskus Service Home, sharing their experiences so far.

It’s freezing outside, and Nikki Mensalvas says she got to practice balancing on the icy streets on her way to work.

The atmosphere in the break room is warm, and everybody is smiling. Studying has been smooth. The newcomers completed their nursing assistant training in the summer, and now they are in apprenticeship training to become practical nurses. 

‘In addition to the job, we have learned more Finnish,’ Jenelyn Malana says in perfectly understandable Finnish.

Her close colleague Yoydit Gebray, a practical nurse who moved from Ethiopia to Helsinki years ago, agrees with her: yes, the new colleague has learned everything very fast.

‘Short eight-hour workdays’

Eight months ago, 24 Filipino nursing assistant students moved to Helsinki. In addition to Malana and Mensalvas, Joan Bainco talks about her feelings.

The trio agrees that the work community provides solid support. Admittedly, Finns are fairly quiet as colleagues, but Bainco feels that they are easy to approach.

The apprenticeship training of practical nurse students includes studying one day a week at the Helsinki Vocational College and Adult Institute on Teollisuuskatu, and the remaining four days they learn their trade by working.

Do they find the days in the new culture hard?

‘No, because the working days are short and we have a lot of free time,’ says Malana.

They previously worked 12-hour shifts six days a week. For six months before coming to Finland, they studied Finnish after their working days and completed theoretical studies in the care sector.

Life in Helsinki is off to such a good start that they have also encouraged their friends to come work in the care sector for the city. Mensalvas doesn’t even remember to how many acquaintances she has sent information about the opportunities available in Helsinki. Some of them have already started their Finnish studies.

Bainco’s cousin plans to follow in her footsteps.

More recruitments in the care sector

Inspired by the good experiences, the city intends to continue recruiting care sector employees from the Philippines. This year, 15 care assistants and 30 student nurses will come to work at senior centres and service homes through international recruitment. In addition, Helsinki Hospital will receive 20 student nurses.

More Filipino recruitments are being prepared for next spring.

People at Itäkeskus Service Home are pleased with the city’s plans.

Practical nurse Petri Virolainen has worked with Mensalvas often, and he has only good things to say about her.

‘Nikki is quite shy, and I keep telling her to ask questions. However, I have noticed that she is a fast learner. For example, when I showed her how to add entries into the Apotti patient information system, she immediately got the hang of it.’

Virolainen is also impressed by his new colleague’s way of interacting with the residents of the service home.

‘She does it respectfully and calmly. It’s easy for people with memory disorders to trust her, even if she doesn’t speak perfect Finnish.’

Virolainen has noticed that many other people who have moved here from elsewhere also naturally respect older people. He thinks it’s because of their culture.

Head nurses Mira Naakka and Anna-Kaisa Isokangas have noticed the same. In addition to the respectful encounters, the colleagues are pleased with the good mood of the newcomers.

Naakka says that humour and laughter have become more common on the wards. Many people have noticed how nice it is to come to work in the morning.

The joy has also affected the nursing home residents. Malana says that she gets spontaneous praise from them, and her colleagues nod their heads. Even the residents’ relatives have not had anything negative to say.

Jenelyn Malana and Mira Naakka.
Jenelyn Malana and Mira Naakka are pleased with the smooth cooperation on the ward.

English spoken only seldom

For the head nurses, the rapid adoption of the Finnish language has been a positive surprise. The newcomers knew the basics of Finnish already when coming to Helsinki, and their vocabulary has grown at a rapid pace ever since.

‘But I don’t speak Swedish. If a resident speaks Swedish, I have to ask for help from my colleagues,’ Malana says.

Thanks for the fast learning of Finnish goes in large part to the work community. Many things could have been resolved faster in English, but it is seldom used. Virolainen says that if individual words in English need to be used, they will revert to Finnish in the next sentence.

The whole group laughs when they go through some of the slang words used in the care sector.

Clearer instructions

Malana says that one of the new areas of expertise when a care assistant studies to become a practical nurse is medical treatment.

The rules must be clear, and this is emphasised in safe medical treatment. Naakka says that a multicultural work community requires clear operating instructions. Many of the current ones are unnecessarily complicated.

Communicating things clearly serves the entire work community.

Orientation is also good for the instructor

What kind of greetings would you give to work communities that are considering whether to take in students from other countries?

Virolainen says that he has considered whether the orientation would become stressful, as the working days are quite busy anyway.

‘Nowadays, I think that it would be good for everyone to guide a student once a year. When providing orientation to another person, you start to think about why you do things in a certain way and how else they could be done. You also have to justify things to yourself.’

Isokangas says that it’s worth trying to get rid of your prejudices. In eight months, the Filipino nursing team has progressed so far that it’s possible to review the residents’ affairs using a report in Finnish.

Petri Virolainen and Nikki Mensalvas.
Petri Virolainen has been working the same shifts as Nikki Mensalvas and is impressed by the learning pace of his new colleague. Photo: Kirsi Riipinen

Helsinki’s recruitment is ethical

Recruitment from abroad is necessary, as the lack of nursing staff is dire throughout Finland. The City of Helsinki adheres to ethical principles when recruiting employees from abroad.

They state that the recruits must come from countries with a functioning healthcare system and a sufficient number of nurses.

The city customises the training for the newcomers and offers the same salary, terms of employment and benefits as for other people doing the same work. The newcomers receive proper orientation and support in their integration. In addition, the city promotes family reunification.

More information

Read more about the principles for recruitment from abroad