In Her Own Words: Dory Osilla Lim on the Business of Caring
Dory Osilla Lim, entrepreneur and civic leader, is a self-made woman. Starting a nursing career in the East Coast during the 1970s was no easy feat for a young immigrant woman. With her self-determination and a strong work ethic, Dory overcame many challenges, and went on to lead a successful career in the health care field.
After years of managing nursing staff at big hospitals in the East, Dory moved to Oregon and began to dabble in entrepreneurship. She discovered an unmet need: providing nursing care for special needs adults and the elderly. Adult foster homes are single family residences that provide care in a homelike
setting, a stark contrast to the often impersonal enviornment in many large, multi-building nursing home facilities.
Dory owns and operates two adult foster home facilities in Multnomah County, private homes that offer family-style living. In adult foster homes, medical and personal care are provided in a
manner that encourages maximum independence and enhances the quality
of life. Care and supervision are provided to maintain a safe, secure and intimate
In addition to running her growing business, Dory remains active in the Filipino-American community. She is engaged in many civic activities with her husband, Jaime Lim, publisher of The Asian Reporter. In Her Own Words, Dory talks about her experiences as a professional in the health care field who leveraged her knowledge to run a niche, profitable business.
In a lot of ways, running adult foster homes is a good way to tie all my work experiences together. I went to medical school, worked as a nurse manager for a long time, and helped people detox from alcohol and substance abuse. I took care of my Mom during the last few years of life. I learned a great deal from all those experiences, and now I have a chance to give back.
We’re in the business of taking care of people and making them feel comfortable, making them feel they belong. Our foster homes are staffed with dedicated and hard-working caregivers. We make sure that our patients receive only the best quality of care.
I was born in the town of Santa Barbara, in the Pangasinan region of the Philippines. I’m the sixth of nine children. We had a small house in Manila, but my parents wanted us to grow up in the province so we would know what it’s like to live the hard life. We had a rice plantation, where we also grew coconuts and mangoes.
At the time, there were only a few schools that offered nursing as a course of study. I attended Philippine Women’s University in Manila, a private all-women’s college.
There were very strict requirements for students going to nursing school in the Philippines. It was very competitive, and I felt very lucky to make it. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in nursing.
It was common for Filipino parents to designate a profession to their children. Even as a child, it was determined that I will be nurse in our family. I wanted to study medicine, but my parents convinced me that I should finish nursing first. If I wanted to study medicine later on, at least I will already have my BSN (bachelor of science) degree.
In the Philippines, there is no government or student loans. If you wanted to go to college, especially a private school, you pay for it. My parents paid the full cost of my education.
In the province, we had neighbors whose daughters were nurses in the U.S. They had good careers and prospects in the States. When these nurses would come home to visit their family, people celebrated their homecoming.
During college, I was already in correspondence with different universities in the United States, to become what they used to call a foreign exchange nurse. After nursing school in the Philippines, I came straight to the United States. It was easy during those days to obtain a visa to work or go to school. I was accepted into the exchange nurse program at the University of Pennsylvania.
Starting a career
I was only 20 years old when I came to Pennsylvania. I was by myself. Coming to the U.S., I wasn’t scared at all. I had known nurses who were working in Maryland and Chicago, and my older brother was living in Seattle.
When I came, there were five Filipina nurses already being trained at UPenn. They put us in a dorm, and we had a house mother who was very good to us.
At UPenn, I chose to be trained in the operating room. I was very lucky to meet the hospital administrator, Dr. Robert Laucks and his wife Susie. They were very generous with their time, and exposed me to many aspects of American society. I met the actress Grace Kelly at the Upper Derby horse race. They introduced me to football and antique hunting.
I felt very welcome in this country, and I never felt out of place. I learned a lot about living in America from people I met those first years in Pennsylvania.
At that time, there were many Filipino men who were part of the U.S. Navy living in Pennsylvania. Other than Filipinos, there were also nurses from other countries: India, Turkey, Ireland, and other countries. In Philadelphia, we often got together at the International House, where we had cultural gatherings, parties and social functions.
After three years of working at UPenn, they put us on the path to apply for our green card, so we can immigrate to the United States. The process took a long time. It’s hard to visit the Philippines when you’re still only waiting for your green card.
I became an assistant head nurse at age 24. I was living and working in New York City. I loved it in the big city. There were a lot of young people, and a lot of hospitals, which meant more opportunities for my career.
It wasn’t always easy. There was a time when I thought it was about racial discrimination, but looking back, I can see that there were other issues. I worked with many white doctors who were not used to working with foreign nurses. Even though we came here knowing how to speak English, it’s not our mother tongue. It’s still different.
Filipinos tend to look younger than their actual age, so people assumed that I was naïve and inexperienced. I was lucky that my supervisors were very supportive – they really backed me up and offered training. I learned how to become more assertive, to stand up to doctors and the demands of working in a very busy environment. I learned important decision-making skills.
What really helped me in becoming an effective manager was being involved in a lot of big cases. I asked to be involved and didn’t mind the work. Having experience in open heart surgery, craniotomy and other intensive surgeries was important. When I became manager, and got called in to the room to resolve a problem, it was easy to identify the problem. Because I had already seen and been there before. I learned that the more work you do, the more experience you get. The more experience you have, the better off you are.
After years of managing busy operating rooms, I decided to attend medical school for a while. After spending more than 20 years in New York, I moved to Oregon in 1994 to be with my parents and brother.
A New Chapter in Oregon
After Jaime and I got married, we decided to work together. For three years, I stayed in the Philippines, managing all our construction projects there. We built business centers in Bulacan, apartment homes in Cebu, condos in Sorsogon, and apartment complexes in Quezon City.
Transitioning from being a nursing manager to running a construction business was great. I understood why people who have worked in companies for a long time want to start their own businesses. I worked in very stressful areas in the medical field. In construction, it was good to network, meet people. I felt that I was more in control of my time, and more authority over the work.
Our business in the Philippines was very diversified. We shared fast-food franchises with other investors. I was traveling a lot on my own to visit the properties. No matter how well you try to blend in, people still know that you’re from somewhere else. My family was really concerned for my safety, but I felt fine. I wasn’t scared at all.
Doing business in the Philippines was different than what we’re used to here in the States. After a few years of working there, I decided it was time to come back. I went back into nursing.
When we came back, I worked for Central City Concern, helping people “detox” from chemical abuse. I didn’t have experience in that area, but they offered training. I worked there for nine years. Our patients were mostly homeless people living on the streets. We provided services round the clock. Also during that time, I started my adult foster home business, and helping my husband with the farm. We always stay busy.
I feel very lucky that I had all the experiences I did – working in many diverse industries. I learned a lot from those experiences, and helped me a great deal in running my own business.
There’s a lot of hard work involved in running adult foster homes. We’re not in the business only to make money. I truly care about each and every person we have in our homes. We have very good and very dedicated caregivers who care deeply about our patients. We treat everyone like they’re family. It is good to be able to take care of someone who may not have family available to care for them. It’s rewarding to help people and make them happy and comfortable.
Spring 2008 Colors of Influence