Profile 1 of 2: co-winner of the Joan Lesmond IEN of the Year award
By: Laura Eggertson
April 4, 2022
The day he did not have enough money for his subway fare home was one of the lowest points in Rodolfo Lastimosa Jr.’s long journey to have his nursing and physical therapy credentials from the Philippines recognized in Canada.
It was a cold, early morning in 2016. Lastimosa was heading back from a casual nursing job in Mississauga to the Toronto apartment where he rented a room. He was $1 short for his subway fare, with no money until his salary arrived in his bank account the next day.
At the time, Lastimosa was attending bridging classes at the University of Toronto during the day so he could get his physical therapist credentials recognized. At night, he was working as a registered practical nurse (RPN), having passed his Canadian Practical Nurse Registration Examination in 2013.
Perpetually exhausted and struggling to keep up with tuition, books and living expenses, Lastimosa was living paycheque to paycheque.
The morning he couldn’t come up with subway fare felt like the final discouragement. But Lastimosa struggled on.
He threw himself on the mercy of a Toronto Transit Commission employee, who told him to “get a psychiatrist” but let him on the subway.
“It was so difficult,” Lastimosa remembers about that period in his life. “I didn’t get enough sleep — I was so tired — but I needed to move forward and push through because I needed to finish the program.”
“Pushing through” could be Lastimosa’s mantra. Just over 10 years after arriving in Toronto as a landed immigrant from his home in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, a combination of hard work and determination has propelled Lastimosa toward the finish line in his goal of becoming certified as a registered nurse in Canada.
Later this year (2022), Lastimosa, 42, plans to write his NCLEX-RN exam after graduating from the bachelor of science in nursing for internationally educated nurses program at York University in 2020.
‘I persevered by applying for RPN eligibility.’
From the day he arrived in Toronto, Lastimosa has stayed focused on his dream of being a nurse in Canada. In the Philippines, he was a nurse educator, a registered nurse, registered physical therapist and midwife, with a master’s degree. He taught third- and fourth-year nursing students while also working in a hospital emergency department.
His parents encouraged him to move to Canada, however.
“We have this culture in the Philippines that when you go into nursing or anything in health care, you have a brighter future if you go abroad,” Lastimosa explains. “You have a better chance of helping others and your family.”
Upon arriving in Canada, Lastimosa was initially discouraged when the College of Nurses of Ontario would not recognize his registered nursing credentials.
“I felt so depressed and demoralized,” he recalled in a speech to the CARE Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses. “However, I persevered by applying for RPN eligibility.”
While taking required courses and waiting to sit the RN exam, Lastimosa worked as a live-in caregiver for an elderly man with dementia. On call 24 hours a day, six days a week, he studied at night while his patient slept.
Once he passed his practical nursing exam, he continued to care for his patient until the man died. Only then did Lastimosa begin working for a nursing agency, while beginning the 10-month bridging course at the University of Toronto to have his physical therapy credentials recognized.
“I felt a deep connection, which is why I did not leave him until his last breath,” Lastimosa says of his patient.
Today, Lastimosa works three jobs as an RPN: full time in gastroenterology/respirology at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital, part time at the University Health Network’s Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and casually as a COVID-19 vaccinator at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
“Almost every day I am working,” he says, laughing.
In the rare hours when he’s not working, Lastimosa enjoys karaoke, good food and music, especially R&B and praise and worship music. He also credits his strong faith with keeping him going.
Neither COVID, which he contracted at the end of December 2020, the long credentialling process or even his father’s death in August 2021 in the Philippines have deterred Lastimosa from his focus: his registered nursing credentials, saving for a house and one day starting a family.
Getting COVID was another dark time.
“I felt I was dying, and I didn’t have anyone to turn to because I have no family here,” he says.
Friends left food at his door, and his mother sent messages and called. After two long weeks of isolation, he pulled through. Shortly after, he received offers for his current jobs.
“I am meant to be here,” he says. “I feel like my life is really here in Canada, and I need to be tough and strong. At the end of the day, if I felt lonely or depressed, I kept going back to my purpose: to be a nurse and to help others.”
Lastimosa returned to the Philippines in September 2021 for the first time in a decade, to attend his father’s memorial service. His grief was tempered by the knowledge of his father’s pride in him, especially since the Care Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses named him the co-winner of the Joan Lesmond IEN of the Year award last August, the same month his father died.
Winning the award would not have been possible without the support and inspiration he received from his family in the Philippines, Lastimosa said in his acceptance speech.
“Most especially my father, who just recently passed, for whom I have the deepest respect, love, and from whom I have derived the strength to challenge myself and perform better every day.”
Laura Eggertson is a freelance journalist based in Wolfville, N.S.