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Reasonable payback

Medical and health professionals should not ask what their country can do for them; instead, they should ask what they can do for their country.

This is especially true for state scholars, whose education was funded by citizen-taxpayers.

Service to people and country over a specified e period should be a reasonable payback for state-funded courses taken and degrees earned.

And so let the poet pose the question: How many ways do I serve thee?

Let a very discerning lawmaker me count the ways.

Sen. Richard J. Gordon has widened the options of medical scholars for serving the county upon becoming doctors after his amendment to the proposed bill seeking to establish a medical scholarship program was approved.

Gordon proposed to amend Senate Bill 1520 or the Doktor Para sa Bayan Act to include working for international organizations accredited by the Department of Health that are serving the country’s underprivileged sectors, aside from working in health or medical research centers or teaching full-time in public institutions in the country once they qualify as doctors.

“It allows wider latitude for choice. It doesn’t mean that when they go in there, they are skipping their obligation to the State. It only adds more positions just in case they want to choose to work for, let’s say the World Health Organization or other organizations like the International Red Cross, or others,” he said.

SBN 1520 proposes the establishment of a medical scholarship and return service program for deserving Filipino students in state universities and colleges and in partner private higher education institutions in regions where there are no SUCs offering medicine, provided that they satisfy the qualifications provided in the proposed law.

Gordon, also chairman and chief executive officer of the Philippine Red Cross, pointed out that allowing the scholars to work for international organizations would also benefit the country since, in times of outbreaks or pandemics like the 2019 coronavirus disease pandemic, they would be exposed to wider research and more extensive programs.

“The idea is good – we want them to serve the country, but the other idea is to allow them a wider source of knowledge especially on research, especially on public health. Certainly, World Health Organization is a great source of public health techniques that we can adopt and that we can be eclectic about it. Certainly, International Red Cross has some of these things and sometimes we do send doctors abroad like in Nepal. The Philippine Red Cross sent doctors to Nepal and they were mostly volunteers and they came back,” he added.

He also supported the provision of the proposed measure which provides that a scholar who fails or refuses to serve the return service required under the bill would have to pay the full cost of the scholarship including other benefits and related expenses.

The bill further seeks to provide that the Professional Regulatory Commission “shall deny the renewal of licenses of those who will not pay”.

“They should pay for the years they were given, the education if they don’t comply. They should pay for the time and the money that was invested in them by the government,” he said.

The Senate has passed on second reading the “Doktor Para Sa Bayan bill that provides scholarships to aspiring doctors, and widens the availability of medical education, as the country seeks to improve people’s access to medical attention.

The bill seeks to address the gap between doctors and patients as data shows that the country has 2.6 doctors for every 10,000 population, far from the ideal ratio of 10 doctors per 10,000 population, Villanueva explained.

“With this bill, our hope is to help improve the access of our students to medical education. We know for a fact that it is costly, and some even need to live away from their homes to be near. We are removing these major obstacles to help our students achieve their dreams and for our people to have better access to medical attention,” Sen, Joel Villanueva said.

“The problem of medical access is more pronounced now that we are in a pandemic. Our vision is to have sufficient doctors and healthcare workers so that our system can better take care of our people,” Villanueva said.

With the bill, which proposes to set up a medical scholarship and return service program, Villanueva hopes to encourage more students to take up medicine, and help improve the doctor-patient ratio.

The country needs to produce over 80,000 doctors to meet the ideal doctor-patient ratio.

In the short term, the bill would double the number of scholars under existing scholarship programs of the Department of Health and the Commission on Higher Education, which currently have around 3,000 scholars, explained the lawmaker, chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher and Technical and Vocational Education.

Under the bill, medical students in state universities and colleges, as well as private medical schools can apply to be included in the program.

Aside from setting up the scholarship program for deserving students seeking to study medicine to become a licensed doctor,

SB 1520 set up a mechanism for state universities and colleges to partner with government hospitals to serve as training institutions, explained Villanueva, who authored and sponsored of the measure together with Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto.

“We are grateful for the enthusiasm and support of our colleagues who gave their inputs to expand the impact of our bill in ensuring that our people have better access to doctors. Our people’s need for improved access to medical attention is now more pronounced with the pandemic ongoing,” he said.

Under the bill, the program shoulders the tuition and other miscellaneous fees of students.

After scholars complete their studies, they would be asked to serve in the country’s public health system, providing a return-of-service equivalent to one year for every year of inclusion in the scholarship.