By: Morgan Manter
As an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI), this is a particularly important time for us to recognize and celebrate the experiences, challenges, and successes of the Filipinx American community.
Honoria Acosta-Sison, born in 1888 during a tumultuous period in Philippine history, emerged as a trailblazer in medicine. Growing up amidst the Philippine Revolution against Spain and the ensuing Philippine-American War, she witnessed the struggles of her people. Despite limited educational opportunities for Filipino women under both Spanish and American rule, Acosta-Sison’s determination led her to pursue a medical education in the United States. Selected as a pensionada, a student funded by the government while they study abroad, she excelled at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1909 as the first woman of her nationality to become a physician. Acosta-Sison specialized in obstetrics, honing her skills for another year before returning to the Philippines in 1910.
Back in her homeland, Acosta-Sison practiced obstetrics at St. Paul’s Hospital and eventually joined the faculty of the College of Medicine and Surgery at the Philippine General Hospital. She married Dr. Antonio Sison and had three children. Embracing American colonial influence initially, Acosta-Sison’s perspective evolved over time, especially as the political landscape in her country changed. Throughout her illustrious career, she conducted research closely tied to her medical practice, pioneering techniques like the low cesarean section in the Philippines. A prolific writer and presenter, Acosta-Sison authored numerous papers and articles on medicine, with a special focus on obstetrics. In 1936, she published “Obstetrics for Nurses,” and in 1939, she played a key role in organizing the Philippine College of Surgeons. Her contributions to medicine and obstetrics stand as a testament to her enduring impact on healthcare in the Philippines.
Filipino healthcare workers have played a vital role in the American medical system, often filling staffing gaps, especially during health crises. However, this reliance has not always been reciprocated with fair treatment. Exploitation and wage discrimination persist, with fraudulent recruiting agencies and some U.S. healthcare facilities enticing Filipino nurses with false promises, later subjecting them to long hours in unsafe conditions under threat of visa revocation. This history of mistreatment culminated in a 2019 human trafficking lawsuit where 200 Filipino nurses alleged wage discrepancies and hazardous working conditions. Despite facing these challenges, Filipino nurses exhibit an unwavering dedication to their patients, often treating them as family. This commitment has been particularly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the combination of insufficient personal protective equipment and the high-risk nature of their roles has placed Filipino nurses in a vulnerable position. Despite the risks, their passion for serving remains undeterred.
Filipino nurses have played a crucial role in the U.S. healthcare system, particularly during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. Shockingly, statistics from April 2021 reveal that Filipino nurses accounted for 24 percent of COVID-19-related nurse deaths, despite comprising only 4 percent of registered nurses in the U.S. This deep involvement in American healthcare can be traced back to the late 19th century when the U.S. colonized the Philippines, leading to a reliance on Filipino healthcare workers to fill staffing gaps. Since 1960, over 150,000 Filipino nurses have migrated to the U.S., with one in 20 registered nurses being trained in the Philippines by 2019. Their indispensable contributions have been essential for the functioning and safety of the U.S. healthcare system.
To support and celebrate Filipinx students at SDSU, check out the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Center!