Wayne America

Adjusting to new country, small-town life has been good for new PMC lab techs

Pilarisa Alama (left) and Raul Tan Jr. left their homeland in the Philippines to come to work as laboratory technicians at Providence Medical Center. They are among a growing number of Philippine residents who bring the education and experience to the United States to help fill a growing need for lab technicians in hospitals across the country. (Photo copyright Mikey C Productions)

You think YOU have a long commute to work from your home?

We’ll bet Raul Tan Jr. and Pilarisa Alama have got you beat . . . by several thousand miles.

The 26-year-old laboratory technicians have made their way from their homes in the Philippines to Wayne America and have found a new home while working at Providence Medical Center.

Both came to small-town America from much bigger cities back home and say they’re adjusting to the change.

Both were looking to the United States to continue their careers after college, and they’re adjusting to many of the changes that they’ve experienced in their first month in Wayne.

“The traffic is terrible and very congested back home, and with all the pollution you don’t want to stay outside too long,” Tan said of his home town of Cebu City, a city of 1.5 million people that is the second-largest city in the Philippines.

Alama, who hails from Ormoc City Leyte, said she was more likely to hang out at home with her sisters than spend time in the big city.

“I worked in the same hospital with (Raul) and I came from a smaller town,” she said. “Our town is a lot bigger than 5,000, but I decided to just hang out with my family.”

The pair’s skills as medical lab technicians are hard to come by here in the United States, and with recent retirements in the lab at Providence Medical Center, the need to find capable, qualified candidates was pressing.

“There has been a med tech shortage in the U.S. for some time,” said Kristine Giese, chief operations officer at PMC. “It’s been brewing for a while and the average age for med techs is getting to the point where they’re retiring and schools for med techs have been closing across the country. You need to do an internship after college, and the number of hospitals who are willing to do that has been decreasing.”

For the lab at Providence Medical Center, there is also the challenge of finding young med techs willing to work on call during the overnight hours.

“It’s kind of a double obstacle for us because our techs have to take call and a lot of kids coming out of school would rather go to a larger hospital that has a 24-hour lab where they might have to work some nights but don’t have to be on call,” Giese said. “We did expand our lab hours to 10 p.m., which makes it a little better, but it’s still hard to get called in during the middle of the night and then have to come in the next morning.”

Griese said the hospital had connections with somebody in St. Paul, Neb., who put them in touch with Alama and Tan and helped them jump through the various government hoops needed for them to come to work in America.

“He has helped place a lot of med techs from the Philippines here in Nebraska and had visited Providence a few years ago,” she said. “I had some experience with some hospitals that had employees from the Philippines working in their labs and had a good experience, so we were able to make contact with him.”

The duo was hoping to get started here in Wayne in May, but paperwork issues back home delayed their journey.

“At the time, we had our visas that qualified us to enter the U.S., but they needed to be processed on our side and the government had some internal problems that suspended processing, so we had to wait for those problems to get fixed before we could proceed,” Tan said. “It took us more than a month to get that figured out.”

“We didn’t work for a couple of months,” Alama added.

Once they got to the United States, they had to go through the process of getting Social Security numbers and the other paperwork that is needed to do everything from opening a bank account to getting a driver’s license.

“It was interesting me to find all this out, that you can’t do anything without a Social Security number,” Giese said. “The first day they were here, we took them to the courthouse to get their Social Security numbers, and that happened to be the day there was some tornado activity in the area, so they got to experience that as well.”

Amara and Tan both said it was the first time they had ever been in the basement of a home.

“We don’t have basements in our homes in the Philippines,” Tan said, laughing.

Tan and Alama share an apartment here in Wayne and rely on the good will of fellow staff members to make the short commute between their new home and work, and they have done their best to get acclimated to their new home town.

“Kris and everybody at the hospital have helped us out,” Tan said. “We have an apartment and have friends who have helped out for other towns as well.”

“I’ve never been away from family, so the distance has been tough,” Amara said. “But it’s been filled up by people like Kris and Jackie (Backer). They’ve kind of helped us from the moment we got here and helped us get things done and cope with the distance.”

And, from all accounts, they have been wonderful additions to the lab staff at PMC.

“They’re catching on quickly to things and are obviously very friendly and have a great attitude and we’re happy to have them here,” Giese said. “Our lab has been very stable for years. Elizabeth (Erwin) just retired after 42 years, so we’ve had a lot of long-term employees there and suddenly the apple cart turned over and we’ve been relying on contract help. They do a good job, but it’s not a long-term solution and you have to train somebody new every few months. We’re hoping they like it here and hope they can make Wayne their home.”