National

Japan's health care sector still a magnet for Filipinos

by Ronron Calunsod

Kyodo

Job opportunities in Japan’s health industry continue to attract Filipinos a decade since it started accepting candidate nurses and caregivers under a bilateral economic agreement.

Earlier this month, a new group of Filipino health workers who aspire to work as nurses and caregivers here began preparatory training in the Japanese language and culture in two centers in Manila.

The 341 applicants comprise the 12th batch of candidate nurses and caregivers under the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement forged in 2008. Japan accepted the first batch of Filipino health workers in 2009.

“I like the country. And I think I will broaden my experience and learn more there. At the same time, I can also help my parents because of the higher pay there,” 29-year-old applicant Jiemie Pastor said.

Pastor, who hails from Nueva Ecija province, north of Manila, is a nursing graduate but has yet to pass the local licensing exam. In the meantime she has been working as a staffer at a clinic.

Lourence Jor, 34, from Iloilo City in the central Philippines, said he trusts that Japan’s modern medical facilities will improve his skills in caregiving, a profession he is applying for under the same program.

Proximity to home is also a major consideration in light of similar chances to work as a nurse in the United States or Germany.

Edith Inay, 28, a licensed Filipino nurse who hopes to work as caregiver in Japan, said “Japan is my dream country.” She praised Japanese for having a clean environment, disciplined people and an interesting way of life.

One of the applicants said the salaries offered in Japan are six times higher than in the Philippines, though rates vary depending on where people are deployed.

All three, who are undergoing preparatory training at the Nihongo Center Foundation in Manila before departing for Japan next June, admit that learning Japanese is a major challenge.

“I’m just a beginner now. So for now, I think it will be hard for me. … We’re still adjusting because this is a totally new language for us,” Pastor said.

Motivated by her interest, Inay said she started learning basic words and phrases last year and looks forward to the formal training the Manila branch of The Japan Foundation and the Nihongo Center Foundation has prepared for them.

The center where the other group of 201 applicants are undergoing similar training is at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority compound in Taguig, a Manila suburb.

Speaking at the opening program for the 12th batch’s preparatory training at the Nihongo Center Foundation, Manabu Yasukawa, the Japanese Embassy’s labor attache, underscored the value of learning the language, saying it is “one of the key factors in achieving success in the path that you have taken.”

“Learning a new language is certainly not an easy task. But it may reward you with more possibilities ahead. … It is essential for your upcoming work and life in Japan, and eventually, in passing the national license examination which will secure your long-term spot in the health care industry in Japan,” Yasukawa said.

“Although we study English in school, we use Japanese in everyday life. So if you cannot communicate in Japanese, you would have a very, very hard time working in Japan as nurse or caseworker because you have to communicate with the Japanese patients and your colleagues in their language, Japanese,” echoed Kenjiro Ogata, the academic adviser to the foundation.

“The Japanese language, or Nihongo, will make or break your life in Japan,” Ogata warned.

Hiroaki Uesugi of the Japan Foundation, however, said that more than the language or basic knowledge on Japanese society and culture, applicants are also expected to “establish the habit of self-training.”

This is essential when they continue with another six months of language and culture training in Japan, and thereafter, when they start their on-the-job training at hospitals and caregiving facilities for three or four years, he said.

“There, you should continue to study the Japanese language by yourself to pass the forthcoming national board examination of certified nurse and caregiver. The goal is not just going to Japan. Your goal is to pass the Japanese national nursing or caregiving examination, and work as nurses or caregivers in Japan.”

According to the Japan International Corporation of Welfare Services, 151 Filipinos have passed the nursing license exam and 366 the caregiver license exam since the program began.

They are part of the 588 candidate nurses and 2,004 candidate caregivers from the previous 11 batches who entered Japan under the program. Tokyo is also accepting candidate workers from Indonesia.

A few years ago, however, to improve struggling pass rates, Tokyo and Manila began to extend the training and simplify some of the Japanese terms in the exam for foreign applicants.

Uesugi assured them that the chance for qualified Filipinos to work as nurses and caregivers in Japan will remain high because of its quickly graying society and the government’s relaxed policy on bringing in foreign workers.

“Please note that the government of Japan, in cooperation with the Philippines government, will continue to invest, to implement well this program, committed under JPEPA,” Yasukawa of the Japanese Embassy said.