Only one in three slots in the government’s Doctor to the Barrios (DTTB) program was filled in 2015 and 2016, raising calls in the Senate to make the program’s incentives more attractive to lure more physicians to rural practice.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto revealed that of the 946 DTTB available slots in 2015 and in 2016, the Department of Health managed to recruit only 320 doctors in both years.
Because one DTTB physician is assigned per town, the implication therefore is that 626 low-income municipalities, and millions of their residents, were deprived of medical services for lack of takers, Recto said.
One of the doctors to the barrios was Dr. Dreyfuss Perlas, who served in Sapad, Lanao del Norte until he was gunned down by still unknown assailants in nearby Kapatagan town 7:30 p.m. of March 1.
“Konti na nga lang, nalagasan pa,” Recto said, noting that despite aggressive recruitment by the DOH, there were only a few takers for what is seen as a hardship post that pays P56,000 a month.
When asked by Recto during last year’s budget hearing why they were having a hard time filling DTTB slots, DOH officials cited “unattractive pay” and “the desire to undergo further training” as main reasons cited by those they were trying to recruit.
Recto urged the DOH to revisit the “benefits package” for the program, which is a lynchpin in the government’s move to increase doctors’ presence in poor areas.
But to guarantee a steady supply of doctors, Recto said the government may have to “infuse more incentives” into the medical scholarship program being run by the DOH, “by making it at par with what cadets at the Philippine Military Academy and Philippine National Police Academy get.”
“If taxpayers are spending P2.5 million to produce one PMA graduate, why can’t we spend the same in training future surgeons?” Recto asked.
Recto has been advocating for the “expansion and institutionalization” of DOH’s medical scholarship program.
He said the attractive package for future MDs can be included in his “One Town, One Doctor” bill, in which government will choose one medical student scholar per town – on the condition that when he becomes a doctor, he will go back to his town to serve for four years.
“In short, this is a ‘galing sa bayan, tungo sa bayan’ scheme of producing doctors. We pick from among the town’s best and brightest, finance his medical studies, and when he becomes a doctor, he repays it by serving his own people,” Recto said.
And while the doctor is doing his mandatory four-year community service, another bright young student from the same town starts medical schooling so that there will be a replacement after four or five years, Recto explained.
“If we’re facing a lack of rural doctors, this is one way to guarantee supply,” Recto said. “This is one investment with a high social ROI.”
According to experts, the country’s public health system is grappling with a shortage of 60,000 doctors. As result, six out of 10 Filipinos die without seeing a doctor.
Under Recto’s “One Town, One Doctor” bill, the DOH-administered scholarship will cover “tuition, laboratory, miscellaneous fees, and all school fees; textbooks, supplies and equipment; clothing and uniform allowances; traveling, subsistence and living expenses.”
To qualify, an applicant must belong to the upper 30 percent of a graduating class of any pre-Med course and have been accepted to medical school.
If no one from a town qualifies for the program, the allotted slot may be assumed by a scholar coming from another town in the same province. The scholar, however, upon getting his license to practice will have to serve in the town which provided the slot.
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