Twenty years ago Maria Jeralyn Montes-Pagcu, known as Jerri (pictured left), travelled over 6,700 miles to take up a once in a lifetime opportunity; she has never looked back.
At the age of 27, Jerri was just one of 15 nurses from the Philippines who were recruited to the Royal Free Hospital as part of a nationwide recruitment drive.
Two decades later, Jerri continues to work for the hospital and still treasures the plane ticket that bought her to her new life in the UK and her dream job. And the hospital has a special place in her heart as the place where her three children were born.
Jerri didn’t know much about life in the UK before she arrived and wasn’t sure what to expect. Many nurses from the Philippines were travelling to the US for work but she was interested in the new opportunities offered in the UK.
The new arrivals from the Philippines shortly after arrival (Jerri pictured third from right)
She had studied for a Bachelor of Science in nursing at university in the Philippines and saw an advertisement for nursing staff at the Royal Free Hospital. After going through the interview process and passing an exam, she was glad to be offered a role as a supervised practice nurse within the gynaecology department. Now a clinical nurse specialist in gynaecology oncology, Jerri says: “I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to develop professionally and specialise as a nurse in gynaecology. I’ve always felt encouraged to take opportunities available to me - hard work, passion and upholding work values are the key to success.”
On her arrival in the UK, Jerri was given a tour around Hampstead and familiarised herself with how to get around on public transport and where to go food shopping.
“Everything was provided, from the plane ticket to the first few months of accommodation. We felt very welcome; everything had been thought of to make sure we settled in.”
Jerri's plane ticket which she kept as a memento
She was used to living in a big city, having moved from the countryside to the capital of the Philippines, Manila, at the beginning of her nursing career. However, Jerri had to adapt to the cold weather in the UK and when she wanted a taste of home, she would go in search of ingredients in China Town.
Living overseas and away from their family, the arrivals became very close knit, and supported each other away from home, living together in hospital accommodation for their first year, exploring the UK and Europe and celebrating each other's birthdays.
Jerri in her hospital accommodation
More recently, just as they had done when they first arrived in the UK, the nurses have been a support network for each other.
“It’s difficult for us all to meet up now that we have families and life is busy, and especially during the pandemic, but we are still close and I love bumping into my colleagues around the hospital,” she explained.
During the course of the pandemic, Jerri remained working in her usual role caring for patients with gynaecological cancer. Passionate about her work, she was pleased to be able to continue seeing patients and providing essential care.
Of the group of 15 nurses who arrived from the Philippines in 2001, 10 are still working at the Royal Free Hospital.
“I know I speak on behalf of all of us when I say how grateful I am for the opportunities the Royal Free Hospital has given us. I’m so proud to work for the NHS – it’s a wonderful service and I’m so thankful for it.”
At the Royal Free Hospital, and across the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, we are proud to welcome staff from all four corners of the globe. Our staff represent 119 different nationalities and we would like to say a huge thank you to all of our staff for their hard work, commitment and dedication.