HEALTH Sec. Francisco Duque III discouraged medicine students from shifting to nursing in order to land high-paying nursing jobs abroad because “it threatens the integrity of the Philippine health care system.”

“I appeal to you (students), I hope you dont shift to nursing because you can do a lot for the country,” Duque said before close to 100 students in the 289th Dr. Luis Guerrero Lecture at the CME Auditorium last Oct. 6. “You have got to have hope, if we all (doctors) leave, who will be left here to take care of the future generation of Filipinos.”

Duque also criticized the government for allotting a small portion of the annual budget to the Health Department. Referring to a 2005 World Health Organization report, he said the government allocates only 2.8 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product—a far cry from Japans 7.9 per cent and South Koreas 5.0 per cent.

“Health should be next to education in terms of the budget,” he said. “We have to invest in our people so that they would be come productive.”

University scene

While the mission statements of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery (Medicine) and the College of Nursing (Nursing) speak of their patriotic duty in providing quality health care professionals for Filipinos, the University could not stop its students from seeking financially-sound jobs abroad.

“Health care professionals leave for economic reasons,” Nursing Assistant Dean Susan Maravilla told the Varsitarian. “They think about their families, that is why some of them leave.”

While the demand for nurses is increasing abroad, Maravilla said the College cannot stop its students from taking job opportunities overseas as UST has established a name in health care in the US.

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“But we still tell our students to stay here to gain experience,” Maravilla said.

A “National Hemorrhage”

In a Philippine Daily Inquirer report, the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) said health professionals leave the country for better pay and working conditions—a trend that started in the early 1990s when the demand for health workers increased in the US and some European countries.

According to HEAD, an organization of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, some 80 per cent of government doctors are enrolled in various nursing schools to land nursing jobs abroad.

HEAD warned that the brain drain has become a “national hemorrhage” since one Filipino doctor looked after 10,000 to 26,000 patients—an alarming ratio compared to the US and even Cuba, where there was a doctor for every 225 patients.

Medicine Dean Rolando Lopez said the brain drain problem is a complex issue.

“It is a multi-factorial problem. It is not only the medical school that can stop brain drain,” he said.

Push factors

In another Inquirer report, the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) blamed political instability for the exodus of health professionals.

The prevailing political crises placed first among eight factors pushing doctors to work as nurses overseas, the PMA primer said. The other factors included “poor working conditions, threat of a malpractice law (being passed), low salaries and compensation, peace and order problems, high taxes, decreased stature of doctors, and inadequate resources to perform (their) function.”

To address the brain drain problem, PMA has lobbied in Congress for a National Health Service Act that will require doctors and nurses to work for a certain period after passing the licensure exams before they will be allowed to work abroad.

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Lopez, however, said the bill “might aggravate the problem,” as students might opt not to take health courses in the country.

“The proposed bill is a curtailment of freedom of the professional to choose where he wants work,” he said. Miko L. Morelos

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