Jonathan and Charmaine Sanglay visited Washington, D.C. with their two daughters.

Imagine the excitement of moving across the world for a new job and wanting to bring the most important person with you for the journey. That’s exactly what Yvette Bandril and Jomar Castillo did in April 2022. The laboratory technologists from the Philippines were hired by a recruitment agency and eloped before coming to work at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital.

One of Bandril’s coworkers is also from the Philippines and recommended her for the job two years ago. While it has been easier for her to adjust to her new home because her colleague told her what to expect, Bandril still notices some cultural differences between the two countries. In the Philippines, “ma’am or sir” is regularly used before a person’s first name as a form of respect, similar to the South’s well-mannered hospitality.

“People are so approachable and friendly here,” she said. “Everyone is on a first name basis and people are independent.”

Bandril enjoys the diversity and equal opportunities CMH offers, as she earned a promotion as a senior medical technologist within five months on the job. But she also has experienced culture shock from moving from a bustling city to a quiet, rural area.

“It’s a simple life here, everything shuts down at 9 p.m. In the Philippines, it is not uncommon for people to be out in the city until 4 a.m.,” she said, noting that while she misses the beautiful beaches of the Philippines, she does not miss the traffic.

Bandril and Castillo had to obtain laboratory licensures, pass English exams and obtain work visas to come to CMH. They are one of the many families who have been hired since 2001, when CMH began recruiting nurses and skilled workers from the Philippines and other countries.

Global recruitment is a standard practice in healthcare, particularly for academic medical centers. VCU Health has a long-standing strategy of recruitment, onboarding and continuing support for global team members joining the health system, which has been underway at CMH for several decades. 

Ursula Butts is one of the staff members who went over to the Philippines more than 20 years ago to interview nurses. She now works part time as a quality coordinator but at the time she was the associate vice president of nursing at CMH. Butts remembers interviewing about 100 nurses over the course of three days during her first trip. Some areas had no electricity and limited transportation options, so nurses used canoes to make it to their interviews. It took a lot of time and effort for nurses to meet with CMH team members.

“I had never been to the Philippines,” Butts said. “All the nurses were so nice and highly qualified. It was hard to choose which ones should join our team.”

In the end, a dozen nurses were hired. That first cohort was expected to stay two to four years. Of that first group, two nurses are still at CMH. Several became nurse practitioners and still work in the area.

“We got their children signed up for school and introduced them to people in the community,” Butts said. “We provided extended orientations and classes to make sure they felt comfortable in our facilities.”

A person who was instrumental in making sure the new arrivals felt welcome in the community was the late Oscar Gulmatico, M.D., a long-time pediatrician who was from the Philippines. Gulmatico and his wife, Vangie, went out of their way to make sure the new nurses felt comfortable in their community, hosting parties and taking them on day trips to visit nearby towns.

Many have also started families after moving to the region because of the opportunities provided by CMH and the Southside Virginia community.

The Sanglay family moved from the province of La Union on the Island of Luzon in the Philippines to La Crosse in July 2022. Charmaine Sanglay was hired by the agency to work at CMH as an acute care nurse and her husband, Jonathan, was also hired as a cashier in CMH’s food and nutrition services. They have two daughters, and just had a son born last month. Their son is the first American-born citizen in their family.

Many people from the Philippines work all over the world. The Sanglays’ worked in Dubai before coming to Virginia, but their kids stayed with their grandparents in the Philippines. The move to the United States meant the whole family could come. They have plans to bring the grandparents over in a few years.

Jonathan Sanglay noticed how friendly people are here. It is not a normal practice to speak to people you don’t know in other parts of the world.

“My colleagues are helpful, approachable and it is easy to communicate with my boss,” he said.

“We value our long history of a diverse workforce,” CMH president Sheldon Barr said. “It’s so important to recognize our workforce at CMH. May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so we wanted to share the experiences of our amazing caregivers who have chosen to make CMH their home.”