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This Filipino Public Health Nurse is Shifting His Community’s Attitudes Towards Health

Rocky Camaligan has designed and integrated a health education program that promotes physical and mental health among patients, health workers and the wider community.
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Rocky Camaligan was destined for a career in health education. “In high school I became an HIV AIDS educator and created a school-wide information drive around how young people can control and prevent the spread of HIV,” he recalls. After training as a nurse (and a short stint as a high school teacher), in 2017 Camaligan saw an opening for a role as a Health Education and Promotion Officer III at Governor Celestino Gallares Memorial Medical Center (GCGMMC) in Tagbilaran City. Realizing that the position would allow him to combine his dual passions for education and healthcare, he applied and was hired. 

Now 35 years old, he is driven by an ambitious goal: to shift attitudes towards health across Bohol province. “Here in the Philippines, people tend to only seek health care when they are extremely unwell,” he explains. “This means they end up with larger health care expenses, which the average Filipino cannot afford. I believe that we need to tackle misinformation and increase health literacy so we can change perspectives around health, shifting from a focus on disease to a health promoting approach.” Camaligan knew he needed to enhance and expand his knowledge in order to make a tangible positive impact and achieve his vision for both GCGMMC and Bohol. When he heard about the NurseLEAD program, he seized the opportunity and applied. 

Strengthening primary health care to reach systemic health goals 

NurseLEAD is a six-week online advanced public health leadership and management course for public health nurses, developed by the UP College of Nursing in partnership with the Johnson & Johnson Foundation. The course is designed to respond to the increased demand for public health nurses with advanced skills to effectively lead the implementation of health care services to achieve universal health coverage. Now in its third year, over 350 nurses from across the archipelago have graduated from NurseLEAD and have begun utilizing their leadership and advocacy training nationwide, causing a positive ripple effect. Camaligan was in the second batch of program participants and now works as a course facilitator. 

His experience on the course has fed directly into his work at GCGMMC, where he has implemented an interprofessional program designed to promote positive physical and mental health habits to three stakeholder groups: hospital personnel, hospital patients and the wider Bohol population. The program is based on a framework called ROCKS, which functions as an acronym describing five recommended behaviors:

R: Regularize Exercise and Physical Activity
O: Omit Health Risk Behaviors
C: Consume Healthy and Well-balanced Diet
K: Keep a Healthy Mind and Stress-Managed Life
S: Say Yes to Regular Health Examination, Health Literacy and Health Protection 

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Rocky Camaligan promoting the ROCKS approach at a community event.

Starting work at 7am, Camaligan spends his time meeting with staff across the institution to identify gaps in the program, as well as helping health coordinators to integrate the ROCKS framework into their daily work. With modules focused on collaboration and systems thinking, NurseLEAD’s training has allowed him to balance different perspectives and maintain a supportive environment while driving towards a shared vision. 

“I will always be grateful to the NurseLEAD program and the Johnson & Johnson Foundation for the skills I’ve learned and how they’ve enabled me to create the ROCKS health framework,” says Camaligan. “Because of the course it is clear to me that health is a complex interplay of social, economic and environmental factors and that we need unified action to achieve universal health coverage. It requires a revolutionary and expansive approach.” 

As the ROCKS project moves into its second phase, Camaligan will be focused on getting more partners on board with a view to evaluate its impact by 2025. 

Sheila R. Bonito, Dean at the UP College of Nursing, echoes Camaligan’s words: “NurseLead is an opportunity for us to advance public health nursing and lead the implementation of the universal healthcare program in the Philippines. If we support emerging nurse leaders and give them the courage to bring forward their ideas and innovations, and also bring them forward from across different fields, we become more innovative and effective, bringing forth new solutions to old problems.”