Four nurses who have spent their entire lives in their home country of the Philippines recently arrived in Tyler to continue their nursing careers at local hospitals.

Ivy Joy Bugtong, Ram Tiongan, Patricia Ann Tigas and Rennie Jay Ronquillo said there is little to no work in the nursing industry. They explained that to gain experience and move forward in their career, nurses have to volunteer their time and work for free because there are so many nurses.

As the nursing shortage in the United States worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign-trained nurses seeking immigrant visas became a priority for processing, which also helped ease the backlog of immigrant visas for eligible foreign-trained nurses.

As a result, each of the nurses’ visas was expedited, which meant their approval came only three to four years after applying. If it had not been for the pandemic, their visas would likely have taken longer to process and be approved.

Bugtong said she has worked as a nurse in the Philippines for 10 years. Tigas worked in the Philippines for two years as a nurse, then moved to Singapore to continue her career there. Tiongan agreed the pandemic has opened doors for them to enter the nursing industry in the United States and help with the nursing shortage.

They all said they looked forward to sharing foods and their culture with their friends and patients they meet. Tiongan said just last week, he talked about food from the Philippines with a patient, who he said was amazed by the ingredients.

They said Tyler offers southern hospitality and the people have been very welcoming.

Ed Santos, a physical therapist in Tyler who helped organize a meet and greet Sunday at Bobaloompia, said there are about 400 Filipino families within an hour of Tyler, and about 1,000 families within two hours of Tyler. He said the Filipino community tries to help each other keep the cultural things as they were used to growing up in the islands.

“For example, November is a very sacred month because a good 80 or so percent of Filipinos are Catholic ... it is like a combination of your Memorial Day and Veterans Day. We all go to the cemeteries, we clean up all the spots to honor the dead, which is very similar to a Mexican celebration,” Santos said.

Santos, who has been in Tyler since 1991, said Bobaloompia was chosen as the place to gather because it’s a Filipino restaurant and serves food family style.

Philippine culture is similar to Mexican or Latin culture, as the country was under Spanish rule for 400 years. There is a large cultural influence in the way each culture celebrates the holidays.

He said more Filipinos are coming to Tyler for careers, mostly in the healthcare profession.

“I’m anticipating an even more flourishing growth, particularly as the diversity in the workplace begins to expand, and with the advent of possibly in two or three years, we’ll have a medical school full-fledged that will necessitate all this ancillary support professions, like nursing,” Santos said.

He added a younger Filipino population may come to Tyler because of the medical school, and second generation Filipinos may also be led into healthcare because they see it’s a good job to have to provide for themselves and their families.

Santos said for every five Tylerites, there is one person who is directly or indirectly in the healthcare profession.

“I’m hoping that it will continue as a trend that we will have a diverse and a lot of folks from different persuasions, different cultures, because it makes Tyler very attractive to me,” he said.

“Of course, we miss our food, our fruits, they’re now getting more readily available because of the support from businesses,” Santos said.


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Bilingual Multimedia Journalist

I cover COVID-19 and health in the East Texas area for Tyler Morning Telegraph, the Longview News-Journal and Tyler Paper Español. Stephen F. Austin State University alumna. For story ideas, email me at