The House of Representatives, through viva voce voting, approved this week on second reading House Bill 6571 which seeks to establish a medical scholarship program to address the shortage of doctors in the country.
Rep. Angelina Tan of Quezon, chairperson of the committee on health which endorsed the plenary approval of the bill and one of the authors of the measure, said the bill likewise seeks to provide the institutional mechanism for the envisioned sustained human resource development of the Philippine public health care system.
Tan said the government has acknowledged the reality that indeed, the country is facing an alarming shortage of medical doctors and other medical professionals.
A recent newspaper editorial cited that the country has a shortage of 60,000 doctors, which means six out of every 10 Filipinos die without seeing a doctor.
Tan said medical courses in the country are too costly that it has become beyond the reach of Filipino families even those belonging to the higher middle income class.
“To make this problem even worse is the fact that doctors are already taking up nursing and leaving the country for more lucrative jobs overseas,” Tan said.
Rep. Vilma Santos-Recto of Batangas, a co-author of the bill, said doctors are the drivers of the health care system, and the system can fail if there is a shortage of doctors.
Another author, Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Pampanga, said there is an urgent need to create a steadily expanding pool of medical doctors to strengthen and expand the core of the public health service system through institutional mechanisms and programs.
“This will not only enable a greater number of qualified and public service oriented young people to pursue medical education but also systematically and effectively ensure their integration into the public health service system in such manner that would harness their talents within an optimum period of time for the benefit of our country and people,” Macapagal-Arroyo said.
House Bill 6571 or the proposed “Medical Scholarship and Return Service Program Act” mandates the establishment of a medical scholarship and return service program for deserving students in State Universities and Colleges or in private higher education institutions in regions where there are no SUCs offering medicine.
The scholarship program shall accept at least one scholar from each municipality of the country and that only upon determination that there is no qualified applicant from a certain municipality shall another qualified applicant be considered, irrespective of domicile.
The number of scholars per province or municipality shall depend on the number of government doctors needed for each province or municipality as determined by the Department of Health (DOH).
The scholarship program grants the following financial assistance: free tuition and other school fees; allowance for prescribed books, supplies and equipment; clothing or uniform allowance; allowance for dormitory or boarding house accommodation; transportation allowance; Internship fees, including financial assistance during post-graduate internship; medical board review fees; annual medical insurance; and other education-related miscellaneous or living allowances.
Among the conditions for the grant of scholarship for deserving students accepted to the Medical Scholarship and Return Service Program are: one, the scholar must finish the entire Doctor of Medicine program in the prescribed time frame in the SUC or PHEi where he/she is enrolled in, subject to the retention policies of the SUC or PHEI; two, he/ she must undertake post-graduate internship in a DOH-accredited public health facility or hospital upon graduation from a four-year Doctor of Medicine program; and three, he/she must serve in a government public health office or government hospital in the scholar’s or in the absence of a need thereat, in any municipality within the scholar’s home province or in any underserved municipality closest to the scholar’s hometown or province determined by the DOH as a priority area, for at least eight years, or two years for every scholarship year availed of, which shall be completed within 10 years upon completion of internship for those who have availed of a four-year program, and 12 years for those who have availed of a five-year program, upon passing the licensure examination for physicians, which shall be part of the mandatory return service and integration into the public health and medical service system.
A medical student may lose the scholarship and shall pay the full cost of scholarship and related benefits received if he/she accepts another scholarship from other government or private agencies or entities; fails 40 percent of the subjects or fails to meet the academic requirements; fails to pass the licensure examination for physicians for the second time; and commits behavioral conduct in a manner that would bring significant damage to the HEI, government institution concerned, persons, and community.
Upon passing the Physician Licensure Examination (PLE) administered by the Philippine Regulatory Commission (PRC), the scholar shall be integrated into the public health and medical service system, through the DOH, with the appropriate rank and salary and related benefits.
The mandatory return service upon integration into the public health and medical service system under this Act shall be a period equivalent to at least eight years within 10 years for those who have availed a four-year program, and 12 years for those who availed of a five-year program, upon passing the licensure examination for physicians, which shall be part of the mandatory service and integration into the public health and medical service system.
The bill provides that in the event that a physician who has availed of the Medical Scholarship and Return Service Program fails or refuses to serve in a government hospital or any local health office in the scholar’s hometown or in any underserved municipality in any province, he/she shall be required to pay twice the full cost of the scholarship including other benefits and expenses incurred by reason of participation in the scholarship program.
In case of non-payment, the PRC shall deny the renewal of the physician’s license, the bill says.