The Story of a Filipino Nightingale: FEU nursing alumnus awarded with Florence Nightingale medal

FEU Advocate
January 04, 2023 13:44

By John Vincent C. Cruz

From being a small-town boy in Lobo, Batangas to becoming one of the highly esteemed medical practitioners in London, United Kingdom, Far Eastern University (FEU) Institute of Nursing (IN) Batch 1997 alumnus, and first Filipino recipient of the Florence Nightingale medal, Mr. Dennis Paquiz, RN took a trip down memory lane on his journey of hurdles, perseverance, and success.

In an exclusive interview with FEU Advocate, the medical practitioner shared details on how he forged the path that brought him to where he is now—something he never imagined would be possible.

Humble beginnings

Paquiz was born and raised in the small village of Soloc, located on the sandy beaches of Lobo, Batangas City. During his formative years, he went to Soloc Elementary School and Malabrigo National High School, where he became the class valedictorian.

However, he had to stop for three years to earn money and look after his grandmother, who unfortunately suffered three consecutive stroke attacks.

“My parents did not have enough money to send me to a University… and my grandmother was in and out of the hospital, so I usually accompanied her,” he shared.

Paquiz then moved out of his province at the age of sixteen. He once worked at Isetann Cinerama Complex on Recto Avenue to make ends meet. In between lunch breaks, the young worker witnessed the white-as-snow uniform of the FEU Nursing students at the time. 

From there on, Paquiz became interested in the profession since there were no medical practitioners in his clan. Filled with ambition and pride, he was granted a one-hundred-percent free tuition fee due to his previous coup as a valedictorian.

While it may look like things are finally aligning for him, the challenges did not stop there—Paquiz had to live in different places before settling in Maceda with his sister and oftentimes had to endure the long walk to school to save money.

“One of the biggest challenges was that we’re wearing all white, and if it is raining, we had to walk like an angel so that there were no splatters of mud in our uniforms,” he remarked.

In addition, he continued to work on the side as a fruit vendor in the busy streets of Blumentritt to provide for his everyday needs.

A nightingale forged in thy happy halls

Despite the hurdles brought by financial instability, Paquiz was able to shine through and excel at his chosen college program. He wanted to extend his help and attend to the concerns brought by students.

As a third-year Nursing student, Paquiz was the vice president of the Institute of Nursing Student Council (INSC) and proceeded to become the president the following year, an impressive feat no one has ever done during his time.

“I was told that ‘There was no vice president who will become president the following year and I did it, I broke the mantra’,” he laughingly remembered.

Paquiz cited this experience as valuable to his later career. Being the only Leadership awardee in his batch, he claimed that it helped him develop his managerial and decision-making skills. 

Aside from being a student leader, Paquiz was the former Literary Editor of The Lamp, the institute’s official publication, and a member of the FEU Theater Guild.

Regardless of his busy organizational life and side jobs, Paquiz remained steadfast in completing his degree, which was his motive why he came to the University. 

He noted that his favorite spot on campus was the pavilion, where he spent most of his time studying and catching up with fellow student nurses.

“I don’t take home at school, and I don’t take school at home… It’s mentally taxing and emotionally challenging, but at the same time, I’d rather be good at what I’m doing rather than waste my time,” he said.

Driven by his once far-fetched dreams, Paquiz went on to become one of the most outstanding students of his time.

Taking a big leap of faith

In 1998, Paquiz briefly became a faculty member at the University, helping student nurses to develop their skills as medical practitioners. He was mainly involved in conceptualizing community projects along with their implementation.

“We never tell them [students] what’s the problem... we ask them to identify the problem and let them work with that,” he recalled.  

Shortly after, he worked at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City. Eleven months later, he was promoted to deputy manager, a lucrative position for his age and experience.

Despite having a stable career in the Philippines, the medical practitioner shared that it was not part of his plan to work abroad. 

The alumnus revealed that one of his colleagues, who wanted to go to the United States, sparked his interest in moving overseas. 

In 1997, a group of British nurse managers visited the country to expand their workers in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Along with his colleague, Paquiz took a leap of faith and pursued this endeavor. He then went to the panel interview in Ayala, Makati City, where he met other applicants from around the country, estimated to be around 22,600.

“I was one of the lucky 17 [to be deployed overseas], and out of that lucky 17, I was the only one who wanted to work in the cancer unit because most of them wanted to be in the medical-surgical [unit],” he revealed.

His decision to be involved in the cancer unit stems from his own experiences as a young adult. For him, it is an honor to look after those who feel isolated because of their health conditions.

Paquiz knew that not everyone has the time to look after their sick family members. The nurse hoped that with every patient he attended to, he touched their lives through his unwavering service, just like how he cared for his grandmother.

Due to varying cultures and cold climate in London, he noted that his first years in London were a strange adjustment. But like the fighter he is, the medical practitioner embraced change and went on to care for his patients.

“Nobody would remember how quickly you have completed a certain task, but how you made them feel, they will always remember that, so that is the kind of mantra I’m following,” the devoted nurse said.

Coming from a warm and genuine place, he highlighted that nurses should prioritize making their patients feel seen and heard instead of merely fulfilling their duties.

Bringing Filipino pride overseas

Now working as a ward manager at Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust, Paquiz is the first Filipino nurse to receive the Florence Nightingale medal in 2018.

Coincidentally, he works at the hospital where Nightingale established her first nursing school in 1859. 

The award is given to those who live up to the values and standards of modern nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale. The luminary remains to be the inspiration of nurses all around the world, including Paquiz.

The ward manager shared that the process was tedious and composed of nominations from various people, including patients and colleagues. Once shortlisted, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will send nominees to King’s College University, where they will study extensively and must pass the pre-requisites.

“It’s a nomination coming from different people, and they shortlisted it up to a hundred of so many thousands… And yeah, I’m just so grateful,” he said.

While others consider this the highlight of his nursing career, Paquiz remains humble and timid towards his achievement. He prefers to keep his life private, including the prestigious accolade.

“I don’t want to sound so proud... there will be more people receiving this award. I did not even mention it to my mom and dad,” he revealed.

Despite being coy about the award, Paquiz is well-aware of the impact of his achievements on Filipino student nurses searching for role models to look up to.

“Don’t give up on your dreams. Aim high and hit the mark. If my story could inspire my first-year or second-year nursing student who would like to give up on nursing, I’m happy to be interviewed a hundred times for the sake of the next generation of nurses,” Paquiz highlighted.

With the rise of technology in the world of modern nursing, Paquiz asserted that medical practitioners should not solely rely on technological devices when taking care of sick patients.

“Human touch cannot be substituted with human machinery. Be a human being that touches the human soul. You could not fake a genuine heart... you could not fake real kindness because during your lapses, the real you will come out,” he said.

The esteemed guest returned in thy happy halls for the annual Alumni Homecoming held at the FEU Grounds last December 3 after many years of being invited by fellow batchmates.

Paquiz is living proof that one can indeed achieve anything one wishes to pursue, an over-sentimental remark that people nowadays find hopeless to recreate. But his story, unlike others, was indisputably brutal—and instead of giving up, he chose to rely on hard work and chase after his dreams. This serves as a reminder to aspiring nurses that what one reaps is truly what one sow.

(Photos by Euxim Garcia/FEU Advocate)