One little mentioned benefit of working for VITAS is that, even without traveling, the world comes to you! Drop into any IDT or any office and witness tremendous diversity, global representation. In celebration of the compassion and nurture of both mothers and nurses, their team chaplain had the privilege of sitting down with Sharon Tindoy (photo, second from right) and Corazon “Cory” Fung (far right), who are from a very well-represented country, here at VITAS—the Philippines. Each were given reflection questions two weeks prior to this interview. The following is an abridged version of our 45-minute conversation.
Chaplain: Thank you, Sharon and Cory, for sitting down to share on your journey as both hospice nurses and mothers. Let's begin with Sharon, and hear some of what led you to nursing and then hospice.
Sharon: Actually, it has been my childhood dream. My mother was educated as a nurse but then got married. Several of her siblings were nurses. She wanted me to continue the tradition. I got my BSN back in 1995. I passed the nursing exam in the Philippines (PHL) and started working, in fact, volunteering as a nurse, in a hospital.
Chap: Very competitive there for nursing?
Sharon: Yes, very, I volunteered first and then I got married. I had two children and then was able to get a nursing job with some pay in 1998. Then I got my Masters in Nursing in PHL. I started doing clinical supervision with new nursing graduates who were volunteering. I was working seven days a week supervising and working as a nurse also.
Chap: (Shocked) You were working so hard! And raising children?
Sharon: Yes (smiling). Of course, it is easier to get help in PHL. In 2007, I was hired as the dean of the college of nursing at my school.
Chap: Impressive, say more
Sharon: Then I came to the USA as an immigrant in 2010. When you come here, you have to balance survival with career. Without a nursing license, I had to start out as a caregiver. Yet, I felt that I needed to make that sacrifice for my family.
Sharon: Because there are dangers like drugs and career opportunities are limited in PHL, I wanted to provide for my son, whose peers negatively influenced him into drugs and addiction.
Chap: A worthy sacrifice to make. You have to humble yourself to offer your family opportunities.
Sharon: It was very tough. Having to struggle to put food on the table while taking on care tasks that were foreign to nursing in PHL.
Chap: That sounds so difficult especially after your hard work to get your BSN and then graduate level credentials. But there is your faith helping you through that difficult time where you are trying to survive financially and get experience while you prepare to take the Nclex, California nursing exam.
Sharon: I survived with my faith and courage. Being in the Bay area, on our own, it is very lonely. Our family was very close back in PHL, during holidays, Easter, Christmas, other holy days…we miss them greatly. Every weekend we get together (some tears). My closest family is my sibling and my mother in North Carolina.
Chap: You miss them a lot. Thank you for sharing. Sharon. Let’s turn to Cory now.
Cory: Actually, our stories share some parallels. And we have known each other for several years and I didn’t know about some of Sharon’s story. Growing up in a family with six other siblings and being the oldest, I didn’t want to become a nurse. I wanted to become a flight attendant.
Chap: Thanks for your candor, so you came into nursing somewhat reluctantly?
Cory: Yes, I wanted to travel around the world, but my family, we are poor. My grandmother was able to immigrate to the US. She supported us financially and she said, “I won’t support you unless you become a nurse.” I didn’t really have a choice. My grandma would only help with college if I became a nurse. My grandma was just realistic and made the case that eventually I would come to the US and she indicated that nursing was really big here. But I said “I am scared of blood!”
Chap: Now, I can relate to that.
Cory: So, in my first year of nursing school, I tried to fail. I didn’t fail, tried again to fail 2nd year. But then I got into my intern rotations and I did well. I think it is because of my empathy for my patients.
Chap: I agree your empathy is strong. Both of you serve from a place of empathy and compassion.
Cory: I started praying to God more. Help me pass my board exam and I will do it, I will become a nurse.
Chap: Sounds like it wasn’t your choice but you made peace with becoming a nurse, despite your fears.
Cory: Yes, I am the oldest of seven and it was not possible to fulfill my family’s dreams, or basic needs in PHL. So, I applied and got a job in Singapore as a CNA. They would not let me to be an RN yet, since experience in different clinical settings are required in Singapore.
Chap: Again, a step down, you humbled yourself for your family.
Cory: I had culture shock when I went there. I had to do nursing tasks that were new. Yes, humbling for sure. I almost quit many times. But after a few months, they promoted me. I think because they can see my compassion and competence. Then I passed the Singapore nursing exam and started working as an RN. I worked there for nine years. Also, I met my husband while I was there who was an American. I had not really dated because I wanted to focus on providing for my family. I have two high school students and one college student and I needed to support them by sending money back home.
Chap: Sounds like you provided a parenting role to your sibling. You provided for them.
Sharon: Yes, that is the tradition in PHL. The eldest sends back money to the family to support the kids. Cory: Very true. My father was working in Saudi Arabia, also sending money back. I told my father, I can send money home. Go back home to my mother and be with the family and work there. So, I supported by six siblings and two parents for nine years while I worked as an RN in Singapore.
Chap: Selfless service, such sacrifice.
Cory: My family was saying “You have to get married!” I send everything back home because I want my family to be together. I lived cheaply in an apartment with 13 other female nurses.
Chap: (Shocked) Really? Wow!
Cory: Six nurses in a room about this size (room was appropriately 10’x12’). I was sleeping on the floor for three years. I had $100 per month for my food and gave the rest to my family back in PHL. I am not blaming them. This is our tradition, it is a challenge, but you learn from it. After I was married, I came here to the Bay Area. But I had a miscarriage and was very sad.
Chap: I am so sorry, Cory.
Cory: At the time, I was studying for the Nclex and I was stressed out. I sent everything back home because I wanted my family to be together.
Sharon: That is our culture. If one family member has financial resources, they send money back home.
Cory: We do this because we love our family.
Chap: Love in action. Sharon you came here to give your kids a better life and sacrificed being away from your husband and family. Cory, you went to Singapore sacrificially to provide for your family back home in PHL. Then they want you to get married so you married a Filipino guy and came to US. What happened next?
Cory: I took the Nclex three months after my miscarriage. Thank God that I passed, I really wanted to go back to Singapore but then I met Sharon.
Chap: You are such good friends. Where did you meet?
Sharon: We met at Windsor Manor, moved to Montecito Concord together and then here to VITAS.
Cory: Like Sharon, I really missed my family. I brought my two sisters to Singapore. We both worked ER, Medical, and Surgical. We both have experience in all different nursing settings. Then we came to hospice and it is all new and different. We didn’t have hospice in PHL. When we came to VITAS and went to IDT, English was not our first language so it was a struggle to communicate. For example, in the hospital, we would report the patient is alert. Here, we say the patient is alert and oriented x1, x2 or x3.
Chap: Different technical jargon, plus it is all learned in a different language.
Cory: Sometimes I would like to express myself more. I see everyone with a kind of clinical distance. But I feel deeply, my culture and family express our feelings. That is an adjustment, having an outlet for emotions in the right setting. I could not cry for my patients when they died. Everyone is so happy here. I was a bit confused at first. This is hospice and it is emotional at times but there is not always space to express feelings.
Chap: Yes, especially in IDT, we are, at times, encouraged to focus on clinical facts and impressions with a kind of emotional distance. Though, my experience has been that when I have advocate for space to express feeling about a patient’s dying or other emotional aspects that the team is open. [There was some discussion on how we sometimes ask for permission to share by having tears, expressing our feelings. The consensus was IDT values the expression of feeling in the team meeting. Creating this safe place to share feelings requires advocacy for others and ourselves].
Cory: In hospice, unlike ER for instance, you have more personal interaction, you form a relationship with them, a compassionate relationship. PHI has yet to have a government-supported hospice benefit. Like Sharon, I came to hospice because I am curious about the personal connection with patients.
Chap: You enjoy bringing comfort to your patients but you like the personal nature of hospice. This kind of nursing seems more spiritual.
Sharon: Yes, more meaningful. In hospice, I am able to live my values, express my faith in the compassionate life that I live. Money is not important. Caring for my patients, caring for my family. That is what gives my life purpose. Having purpose is so important. Of course, we both have family issues. We are both mothers with complexities. But, we support each other.
Chap: That is one reason, I wanted to hear your story. You really support each other.
Sharon: Yes, we talk daily. I felt sad when Cory was on PTO. Yes, she is caring for her baby but I miss her! (Laughter by both).
Chap: You really miss her. You both have answered many of my interview questions already. Talk for a moment about when you are at your best in hospice.
Sharon: When my patients are comfortable, I will push my charting to home if necessary to being sure that they are ok. I am at my best, living my faith by caring.
Cory: One of my patients took her last breathes in my arms.Her family could not be there.But I held her and felt that was my purpose.I was supposed to be there.We were all crying, the ICC nurse, facility nurse and myself.I was able to tell the family that she died comfortably in my arms and the family said “Thank you!”
Chap: Wow, that is precious. Inspiring!
Sharon: Life is so sacred and precious.
Cory: One of your questions, about gratitude and keeping perspective, I liked that one. I have some real challenges right now [Cory is a new mother and returned from maternity leave two months ago]. Being a new mom, feeling torn between staying at home and going to work. We don’t have much help. Just me and my husband. I didn’t sleep much last night. Having Sharon here, knowing that she will be in the parking lot, waiting for me (laughter). I think “I can do this!” My patients are waiting. I have to focus positively, pray daily, keep perspective. My faith is even more important to me now. We are both not materialistic people.
Sharon: Yea, live simply.
Cory: I learnt to accept things as they are.
Chap: Accepting things, there is peace.
Cory: I used to be perfectionistic. Having my son Marcus, he has taught me to accept things as they are. See even having my son, after my six weeks were up. I wanted to work again. I felt guilty about it at first. But I love being a nurse. Even when I was home with my beautiful son, I missed the engagement with my peers and my job as a nurse.
Chap: There is a purpose in your work that you miss.
Cory: I love my son dearly but I missed my patients. I missed my team, you guys. [abridged]
Chap: Keep being great buddies! Thanks so much, Sharon and Cory, for sitting down and sharing your lives with us.
Thank you, Cory and Sharon, for your inspiring personal stories of finding your way, as nursing professionals and mothers. Not without great struggle and sacrifice, you are having a compassionate impact. Keep your faith, be blessed!