RN Lea Batomalaque: Nursing prodigy who graduated cum laude at age 19

She almost quit as a nurse after witnessing a complicated procedure where patient lost a lot of blood

She almost quit as a nurse after witnessing a complicated procedure where the patient lost a lot of blood

By Cristina DC Pastor

If there’s such a thing as a nursing prodigy, that may well be RN Ma. Lea Batomalaque. The post-anesthesia care nurse at Mount Sinai Roosevelt Hospital graduated cum laude at age 19 paying tuition of a little less than $20 for a four-year course.

While all this happened in the 1980s in the Philippines, Lea still holds the distinction of being one of the youngest nursing school graduates by industry estimates.

“My mom was a school teacher in North Cotabato,” she began to explain her unusual passage from the troubled Southern Philippines to New York’s most reputable hospitals. At the age of 3, she would go to Sikitan Elementary School in Kidapawan with her mother and attend Grade 1 classes as “saling pusa” (someone who joins a game but is not legally bound by rules because he/she is lacking the required age). “I was not graded and I participated in classroom discussions.”

That’s how Lea got her running start and distinguished herself academically. By the time she was in elementary and high school at Notre Dame School of Kidapawan School for Girls, excellent grades allowed her to jump the line and finish near the top of her class.

At the West Visayas State University in Iloilo City where she studied nursing in the 1980s, she entered on a partial scholarship. She completed the four-year course paying a tuition fee of less P1,000, or about $20! “My school used to be for students who are smart but from low-income families,” she said.

Lea almost didn’t become a nurse after she witnessed a traumatic delivery procedure, she said when interviewed by The FilAm. “I almost quit.”

On her first year as a nursing student, she witnessed a complicated delivery where the pregnant woman had a condition called severe vulvar varicosities and bled profusely during the procedure.

“Natakot ako,” she said. “I thought then nursing is not for me. I called my mom, who said to think about it, after all you’re still young and can well afford to waste one year.”

After much thought and finding she would lose all school credits, she decided to continue. In her more than 20 years career as an RN, not once has she taken on a delivery room assignment. “I still cannot work in the delivery room,” she declared.

Because of her young age, Lea had to wait till she’s 21 before she got her Philippine RN license from the Regulatory Commission so she could apply to work in the U.S. Her career in the Philippines took root at the Philippine National Oil Company where she was a company nurse at the Surigao branch. In Cebu, she became a nursing clinical instructor. “I enjoyed being a teacher.”

In the U.S., Lea worked her way up starting in 1990 as a nurse at Amsterdam Nursing Home on the Upper West Side. In 1991, she became a hemodialysis nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital. She moved to Roosevelt Hospital in 1994 where she worked as a medical-surgical nurse. In 1996, she began work as a recovery room nurse in the Post-Anesthetic Care Unit at Mount Sinai Roosevelt, a position she holds to this day.

Through the years, Lea continued as a nurse at Amsterdam until 2013.

Amsterdam is significant to Lea’s career. Through those long years that she has been working in the nursing home, she met two nurses who became her friends and later business partners. Together, they formed RN Express staffing agency in 2011.

RNE began as a boutique agency supplying nurses to some of the oldest and largest nursing homes in Manhattan. The agency’s operation in Midtown is expanding. The principals, including Lea, were recently in the Philippines to conduct educational training including information on visa procedures for nursing graduates and nurse managers looking to find work in the U.S. About 60 people signed up for their series of workshops.

“We’re not really businesswomen. We just want to help,” she said, looking back at those years when she was a wet-behind-the-ears nurse who didn’t know what to do in challenging times and didn’t know where to turn to. “We want to help nurses find their way here.”

At this point, Lea could very well take a break from the stresses of bedside duties, but she’s fine, and still enjoys being with patients and working with hospital colleagues.

“I still want to continue working,” she said. But still no delivery room duties.

With her parents and brother, a businessman: High-achieving children

Lea’s family: Father was a farmer, mother (deceased) a school teacher, and her brother a businessman

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