Nikki Salazar – Civilization of Profession: Filipino Nurses from 1898 to COVID-19

About Me

Hi everyone! My name is Nikki Salazar. I am a pre-OT student majoring in Rehabilitation Science with certificates in Children’s Literature and Psychosocial Issues in Rehabilitation and Personal Care. I love thrifting, cooking, journaling, and listening to music. One fun fact about me is that I am the student coordinator for CEY, a volunteer art club run for elementary schools in Pittsburgh with underfunded art programs.

My Project

I was awarded the Creative Arts Fellowship, which I will be using this summer to study the social, religious, and cultural influences on Filipino nurses throughout history under the mentorship of Dr. Young Ji Lee.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn serious attention to American nurses, particularly those of Filipino descent. Filipino immigrants represent the largest share of America’s migrant registered nurses, with their numbers being reflected in the tally of COVID-related deaths, amount of flights across the world to assist other countries, and members of my own family.

The association between Filipinos and nursing began in 1898, when the United States implemented American nursing programs in the Philippines in an effort to civilize people they saw as uneducated “island savages”. The white supremacy and dehumanization rooted in this concept of the indigenous savage may seem outdated, but over a century later, it reveals itself in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic through demands for “imports” of Filipino nurses to first-world countries despite the country’s state as a COVID hotspot.

It is this current view of Filipino nurses as a commodity that inspired me to focus my project on emphasizing their humanity through their individual stories and experiences. My project consists of a series of interviews with Filipino nurses and nursing students to gather information on what influenced them to follow this career path, as well as the broad range of hardships that they may have endured. I then plan on presenting my findings through a handmade, embroidered scrubs top. I often recall the pediatrics scrubs of one of my aunts (or “titas”), which she would wear to work at a local hospital. They were always brightly colored and adorned with flowers and cartoon characters. My tita and the joy that she proudly showcased in her uniform is what I envision in my finished project: a nursing uniform decorated with the complex history and unique experiences of Filipino nurses, reimagining a pessimistic and repetitive story of dehumanization into one of pride and beauty.

As a Filipino student in the healthcare field, I consider the Creative Arts Fellowship to be an opportunity for me to explore my own story, as well as the stories of those who made mine possible. Outside of this intrapersonal goal, I see my project as an expression of integrity, dignity, and pride embedded in the paths of Filipino nurses. I hope to see such an expression uphold a higher recognition of their work, especially in regards to the prevailing pandemic, as well as the recent emphasis on the acknowledgment and dismantling of racist ideologies in the United States. Among the millions of Filipino nurses worldwide to gain recognition for their history and current service would be my own tita, and I view the Creative Arts Fellowship as a way to honor the care and commitment that I have seen and experienced firsthand through her.


Brice, A. “Why are there so many Filipino nurses in the U.S.?” Berkeley News. UC Berkeley. Published 2019.

Constante, A. “With largest share of migrant nurses, entire U.S. Filipino community hit hard by COVID-19.” NBC News. National Broadcasting Company. Published 2020.

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