Thrive by IU Health

May 09, 2023

From the Philippines to IU Health: This nurse is living her American dream

IU Health West Hospital

From the Philippines to IU Health: This nurse is living her American dream

Raised in the Philippines, Ana Mendiola knew she wanted to come to America and be a nurse. Now, she is one of many international nurses to be welcomed by IU Health in light of the national nursing shortage.

By Charlotte Stefanski,, writer for IU Health's Indianapolis Suburban Region

Throughout her life, Ana Mendiola has made it a priority to care for her elders.

Growing up in the Philippines, that firsthand experience of caring for her grandparents inspired her to take it a step further. She wanted to care for her community too.

“People say that nursing is a noble profession,” she explained. “We in the Philippines, we are used to taking care of our elderly—that's part of my calling.”

Mendiola comes from Mindanao, a southern island in the Philippines. She lived in Davao City, the country’s largest city, in terms of land area. While there are several languages spoken throughout the Philippines, Mendiola uses the Bisaya dialect.

Mendiola’s aunt, the first nurse in her family, was hired as a nurse in the United States soon after graduating college.

“My mom said, ‘You know, your aunt is doing well in America,’” Mendiola recalled. “That's when I started my American dream.”

That dream came true about six months ago when Mendiola became one of the many international nurses to join the IU Health West team.

An opportunity to help the nursing shortage

Mendiola isn’t the first international nurse to be welcomed to IU Health. The IU Health Indianapolis Suburban Region (ISR)—which includes North, Saxony, Tipton and West hospitals—began partnering with the international nursing agency Westways last August.

The agency is working with the ISR to hire about 80 international nurses, primarily from African countries, the Philippines and India.  

So far, 10 international nurses have been hired at IU Health North and 11 at IU Health West. While the nurses are contracted for a two-year period, the goal is to hire them permanently.  

Typically, the nurses have a few years of experience, mostly in med-surg type care. They are also all fluent in English. 

Prior to coming to IU Health, the international nurses attend a two-week orientation, which was formerly held in Texas and is now in Indiana, where they are trained on the U.S. equivalents to the equipment they used in their native countries. When they arrive in the ISR, they onboard just like any other new team member. 

Now that the program has been in the ISR for about 10 months, nursing leaders are working to develop a more robust support group for the nurses as they acclimate to both IU Health and Indiana.

“Overall, I think the program has been positive and helped us to diversify our workforce and culture,” said Carrie Wing, regional chief nursing officer of IU Health North, Saxony and Tipton.

Building her own American dream

While Mendiola knew she wanted to become a nurse and work in America, there were a few unexpected turns in making her dream a reality.

Back home in the Philippines, nursing is incredibly popular, leaving few job openings at hospitals. When she graduated from nursing school in 2007, there were few opportunities and newly graduated nurses needed to compete to practice in a hospital.

“When I graduated, there were no opportunities left there,” she said.

At that time, in 2007, the United States was in retrogression when it came to hiring nurses from the Philippines, meaning the U.S. government was not hiring nurses from there.

Later, Mendiola’s parents, who had already immigrated to the United States and lived in New Jersey, suggested she work in another country in the meantime.

“Fortunately, Saudi Arabia opened its doors for international nurses, so I grabbed that chance to work in order to gain experience,” she said. While working there for six years, Mendiola met her husband and had two children.

In 2019, a friend mentioned a recruiter from the Westways program was looking for international nurses to hire in America. The hiring situation was much different 12 years later, and the U.S. was once again welcoming nurses from the Philippines.

This was Mendiola’s chance, so she filed her papers, completed nursing exams, received her work permit and Westways began helping her find an employer.

“Luckily, my resume was picked up by IU Health West and my manager, Hannah Blakley, emailed me and asked if I'm willing to join this institution,” Mendiola said. “I learned that IU Health is one of the biggest hospital systems here in Indiana and so I thought, why not live far away from my parents while I’m here?”

Once in America, Mendiola completed her training in Texas, which helped her not only taught her how to operate machines and technology, but also taught her about American culture and how to communicate with team members and patients.

Arriving at IU Health

Now at IU Health, Mendiola has spent the last six months working on IU Health West’s second floor in the post-surgical unit, which is part of Med-Surg.

Already, she’s developed camaraderie with her fellow team members and has become more efficient in her bedside care. She’s also made an effort to adopt the IU Health values of purpose, excellence, compassion and team.

“This hospital always reminds me to go above and beyond,” she said. “This is what I keep in mind, that you always have to give your best.”

Now that she’s been a nurse in three countries, Mendiola has seen firsthand just how different healthcare can be.

She explained that while the Philippines has some advanced medical technology, basic resources, like gloves and surgical masks, are limited. So, conserving those items is the norm.

In Saudi Arabia, she saw a bigger cultural shift. If a male doctor is taking care of a female patient, another female team member had to be in the room. It was also the same if a female caregiver was working with a male patient.

In America, Mendiola feels more appreciated as a nurse, which makes her want to work even harder for her patients.

“In America, you feel more appreciated in your profession. At the same time, you can feel the sincerity of the gratefulness of your patients,” she said. “Simple appreciation means a lot to me here, because when they say thank you, it's really genuine.”

She also adds that the resources she has at IU Health makes her job easier, and she’s noticed plenty of educational and training opportunities too while at IU Health.

When it comes to acclimating to America, sometimes it can be a challenge. Mendiola misses her husband and two children, who are currently in the Philippines. Westways is assisting her in immigrating them to the United States, hopefully within the year.

Talking with her children over video calls helps inspire Mendiola and persevere through the tough moments. She always keeps the goal of helping her family in mind.

“It takes a lot of courage, but as long as you have your goals, it’s OK. My goal is to help my family. Living in the Philippines can be challenging,” she said. “It's a big help that I'm here, even though there are times that I want to go home. But I'm always happy, I always stick to my goal— that my family will be here and to have a better future.”

A bright future in a new home

Hannah Blakley, a clinical nurse and shift coordinator in West’s Adult Surgical Step-down unit, said the current nursing shortage has pushed healthcare teams to be more innovative in the way they deliver care to patients.

When she heard international nurses would be coming to IU Health, she was excited to see the talent it would bring to IU Health West. That includes Mendiola.

“There have been some hurdles we have had to overcome due to the differences in healthcare in other countries—and definitely with our charting systems,” Blakley said. “But each team member has become a part of our team and family and worked hard to overcome the barriers.”

Since Mendiola arrived six months ago, Blakley said she has impacted her team’s diversity and worldview by sharing her experiences and hardships.

“She broadens my team’s worldview and allows them to see another perspective that they wouldn't have had without Ana or our other international nurses,” Blakley added.

Mendiola echoed those thoughts and said diversity in healthcare is crucial. Bringing in international nurses helps break stereotypes and biases.

“If there are international nurses, your mindset will become wider. You will be able to adapt to differences with other people and you’ll learn more about different cultures,” Mendiola said.

While it has been challenging at times, Mendiola also feels embraced by her team at IU Health West, both in her work and understanding American culture.

“Ana is a joy to work with. She comes to work each day with a positive attitude and brings a smile to everyone's face. Since she has been here, the team has embraced Ana with open arms,” Blakley said. “I have one team member that picks her up from home on the days she works and others that have done things with her outside of work. She is part of our family.”

Now in America, Mendiola hopes to continue her studies and become a nurse practitioner. She wants to help her family, not only financially, but with their health too.

Thinking back to caring for her elders, she also hopes to do that here and work in geriatric care.

She knows aging populations don’t always receive the care and attention they need, especially when it comes to challenging disorders, like dementia.

“It's really challenging to take care of them, but they need more care, compassion and understanding,” Mendiola said. “My heart is with them, so hopefully, God permits.”