Because only a third of the slots in its Doctors to the Barrios program are filled for lack of applicants, government has no choice but to produce its own doctors under a program in which scholars will repay tuition and other schooling expenses by serving in their hometowns for four years.
Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto aired this point in yesterday’s debates on the Department of Health budget for next year–after it was revealed that out of a yearly target of 946, the DOH managed to recruit only 320 doctors in 2015 and the same number in 2016.
Health officials present cited “unattractive pay” and also “the desire to undergo further training” as reasons for lack of takers of the DOH offers for rural practice which a pay a monthly minimum of P56,000.
To fill this “talent void,” Recto said the government may have to “infuse more incentives” into the medical scholarship program being run by the DOH, “by putting 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.
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.
Recto said the “One Town, One Doctor” program can be financed by state gaming income, from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and the Philippine Gaming and Amusement Corporation.
PCSO booked a gross income of P37.4 billion in 2015, while just on the first half of this year PAGCOR had already raked in gross revenues of P24.8 billion, of which P15.6 billion went to state coffers.
The Doctors to the Barrios program is a component of the DOH’s Rural Health Practice Program, which sends to the countryside nurses, doctors, dentists and midwives to augment health field personnel.
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