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].