If you’ve been hospitalized in Europe, North America, Australia or the Middle East in recent years, chances are that at some point a nurse...

If you’ve been hospitalized in Europe, North America, Australia or the Middle East in recent years, chances are that at some point a nurse from the Philippines has had some part in your treatment. As Megha Amrith writes in the introduction to Caring for Strangers: Filipino Medical Workers in Asia (NIAS Press, 2017), Filipinos today comprise one of the largest global diasporas of medical workers, with the Philippines having over 400 nursing colleges, many of them aimed primarily at preparing graduates for work abroad. But as the book’s subtitle indicates, it is a diaspora that stretches not only beyond but also across Asia. And whereas other studies have looked at the political economy of care in the West, Caring for Strangers is an ethnographic exploration of Filipino medical workers in Singapore. The story it tells is one of a community of women, and a few men, occupying an ambiguous space somewhere in-between their local counterparts on the one hand and tens of thousands of unskilled Filipino migrant workers on the other; between exhausting and demanding roles as care-givers for Singaporeans in hospitals and hospices, and high expectations of professional development; and, between nursing as a calling, and aspirations for a better life of consumption and modernity somewhere else.

Megha Amrith joins New Books in Southeast Asian Studies to talk about strategic self-essentialism; the importance of status and faith among Filipino nurses; the racialized and feminized features of the global medical worker economy; and the meaning of home among a migrant community in a transit city.


Nick Cheesman is a fellow at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University and in 2016-17 a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He can be reached at nick.cheesman@anu.edu.au.

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