AFTER topping the 2004 medical board exams, Dr. Elmer Reyes Jacinto decided to become a nurse, joining the thousands of Filipino doctors migrating to other countries as nurses. “(The reason) is economic,” he said in the 2004 Oct. 4 issue of Newsweek. But who would be left to take care of the Filipino people when they fall ill?

This is the question the Department of Health (DOH) Sec. Manuel Dayrit asked in his talk at the CME Auditorium, St. Martin de Porres Bldg. last Jan. 14. The DOH is alarmed, as the Philippines is running out of doctors. About 350,000 (35 %) of the one million departures last year were professionals, most of them physicians and nurses.

In response to this, Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III filed House Bill 3316 or the Philippine Medical Scholarship and Service Act, which ensures the education of a steady number of physicians in the country.

“The bill aims to educate and train young men and women in helping more of our people to survive in their daily struggles against ill health and disease,” Albano told the press. “If we lose our doctors, we would be condemning thousands to illness, disease, and death.”

In the provinces, the situation is already disturbing as some provincial hospitals are facing closure.

“In one provincial hospital, there are only five doctors—each one of them being a specialist in their own field. You can just imagine the tremendous workload that they have. The five handle over 300 beds in the hospital,” recounts Dean Rolando Lopez of the UST Faculty of Medicine and Surgery. “And they only have a fixed salary. Even if they overwork, they get the same amount of pay.”

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Nursing over Medicine

With the rising pressure on doctors, it is not surprising that since 1996, according to Albano, about 4,000 of them left for greener pastures in the United States, Germany, and Great Britain. In these countries, physicians could earn as much as P6 million annually (as opposed to about P200,000 yearly) by becoming nurses.

“People are apprehensive about the peace and order situation, the political instability, and the poor economy in the country,” Lopez told the Varsitarian. “Some doctors would rather go to the United States where general conditions are deemed better.”

For Dr. Grace Gonzaga of the UST Health Service, economic problems, coupled with safety and occupational hazards (especially for rural doctors), and difficult regulatory measures are driving our physicians away from the country.

“I was able to interview a Commerce graduate taking nursing as a second course,” Gonzaga recalls. “She told me that in their class of 50, 30 were doctors.”

In the past years, the Philippines has witnessed the dramatic rise in nursing students as nursing schools mushroomed; even drawing licensed physicians and would-be medical students into the nursing practice.

“There has been a decline of applicants to the medical schools, but fortunately, UST and the University of the Philippines do not yet suffer,” said Lopez. “Some medical schools don’t even have applicants yet.”

According to Lopez, the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery accepts about 440 freshmen every year—an indication that the Filipino doctors’ have not entirely given up working as medical practitioners; an affirmation of Dayrit’s poignant belief that “there is (still cause for) hope.”

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Being the country’s chief doctor, Dayrit appealed to Filipino doctors to stay true to the practice, and “to serve like Rizal and Mother Teresa.”

“The first thing you have to do is to improve the job conditions of (health workers), and that’s going to take some doing,” Dayrit told the Varsitarian. “Under that you also have to expand the economy to (create) more jobs.”

According to a Varsitarian report last September, there is a 15 per cent employment opportunity in the country for health care workers. But the large rift left by migrating health workers has also left large employment opportunities.

“I don’t think Filipino doctors’ idealism to serve their country is dead. Perhaps many are just fed up with the things they see around the country. They probably just couldn’t see that things will change in the future,” Lopez said. With reports from Newsweek and The Philippine Star

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