Exploring the stories of migrant medical workers

  • March 6, 2017
Exploring the stories of migrant medical workers

Megha Amrith publishes first ethnography book on migrant medical workers in today's Southeast Asia.

The stories of migrants have always been inspiring to me, and I wanted to focus my doctoral work on better understanding their everyday lives and aspirations.

Megha Amrith

A Gates Cambridge Alumna has just published the first book-length ethnography of migrant medical workers in contemporary Southeast Asia.

Megha Amrith's book, Caring for strangers: Filipino medical workers in Asia, tells the personal stories of Filipino medical workers living and working in Singapore.  It tracks them from Manila’s nursing schools, where they dream of glamorous, cosmopolitan lives abroad, to a different reality in Singapore’s multicultural hospitals and nursing homes. It also describes nurses’ off-duty activities in shopping malls and churches and their online lives, where they connect with friends and family around the world and search for future opportunities. It then follows them back home on a visit to a Filipino village.

The Philippines has become one of the largest exporters of medical workers in the world, with nursing in particular offering many the hope of a lucrative and stable career abroad.

Megha's book explores the globalisation of medical care and its ethical, political and cultural implications, offering anthropological insights into the everyday experiences, anxieties and expectations of Filipino medical workers who care for strangers in a global Asian city.

The book's publisher Nias Press says that "it locates their stories within wider debates on migration, labour, care, gender and citizenship, while contributing a new and distinctive perspective to the scholarship on labour migration in Asia".

It is based on Megha's PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge where she was a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

Megha [2007] says: "The stories of migrants have always been inspiring to me, and I wanted to focus my doctoral work on better understanding their everyday lives and aspirations. I was particularly curious to learn more about the experiences of migrants working in medical and care institutions. In many places around the world, these institutions hold within them a great degree of cultural diversity and I was eager to explore, from an anthropological perspective, how intercultural encounters take shape in these intimate spaces of care – the misunderstandings that arise but also the positive transformations in terms of how people transcend divisions between self and other. I also wanted to understand what this labour of care means to the migrants who perform it, given the persistent cultural and gender-based stereotypes in this sector and specifically among migrants from the Philippines who have an important presence in this sector globally."

She says her PhD research motivated her to widen her exploration of migration and diversity to include other regions beyond Asia. For her postdoctoral research, she conducted new fieldwork on these themes in South America and Europe. Since then she has been working with both academic and policy communities as a Research Fellow at the United Nations University in Barcelona on globalisation, culture and mobility. "I am keen to find ways to bring the rich findings and debates in academic scholarship to broader audiences, from policy-makers to civil society groups and the general public," she says.

*Caring for strangers: Filipino medical workers in Asia is published by NIAS Press, price £18.99 [paperback].

Megha Amrith

Megha Amrith

  • Alumni
  • Singapore
  • 2007 PhD Social Anthropology
  • Wolfson College

My PhD research is about contemporary migration within Southeast Asia – my particular focus is on the migration of Filipino medical workers to Singapore. Through the lives of mobile medical workers, I will explore the globalisation of medical care and its ethical, political and cultural implications. I have just returned to Cambridge after a year of ethnographic fieldwork and I look forward to working with a diverse and dynamic graduate community in the year ahead.

Latest News

The process of history-making

Olin Moctezuma-Burns [2020] is keen not to repeat the patterns of some past researchers and to give back to the communities she studies. For that reason she recently co-organised an international gathering of Imagining Futures projects on archiving indigenous and traditional knowledges in Sotuta, Yucatan. The meeting brought together people from Colombia, Peru, Kenya, Tanzania, […]

How might extreme heat contribute to human migration?

Rising temperatures due to climate change are likely influencing human migration patterns, according to a new study co-authored by Gates Cambridge Scholar Dr Kim van Daalen [2018]. The study, led by Rita Issa of University College London, is published today in the open-access journal PLOS Climate. It looks at the role of heat in human […]

Scholar scoops prestigious science innovation fellowship

Freja Ekman has been named one of the 2023 class of Hertz Fellows as the prestigious fellowship celebrates its 60th year. The 15 fellowships in applied science, engineering and mathematics are awarded by Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, a non-profit organisation for innovators in science and technology. Winners will have their graduate studies funded for […]

Scholar hosts first UN communications technology access meeting in India

Gates Cambridge Scholar Pradipta Biswas has hosted a UN meeting on improving access to communications technology – the first ever held in India. The meeting of ITU-T Study Group 9 (SG-9) on “Broadband Cable and Television/Audiovisual content transmission and integrated broadband cable networks”  was held in May at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru […]