Doctors, nurses face severe challenges

LAURA G PEREZ SACRAMENTO

The Philippines has given the world its best
medical professionals for decades but as the “brain
hemorrhage” continues, public health officials warn
of its dire consequences.

More than 1,000 hospitals have reportedly closed in
the past five years because of a shortage of doctors.
Likewise, a number of medical schools have
ceased operating because of declining enrollment.

Patriotic Filipinos bemoan the fact that we are
losing 70 to 90 per cent of our medical graduates to
the United States.

“This is a glaring insult to the blood, sweat and
tears of our people,” says Dr Jose Tiongco, a
University of the Philippines graduate and chief
executive of the Medical Mission Group
Hospitals/Health Services Cooperative-Philippines
Federation.  

As US immigrants, our doctors have one of the
highest average incomes per household in
America. But if they are enjoying the good life, they
most certainly deserve it after spending more than
10 years in medical school.

Dr Francisco Marasigan, a Manila Central University
graduate who is now based in California , was a
rural doctor in Batangas for two years. “Many of my
patients were so poor they could only pay me with
vegetables from their farm.”

He opened Marasigan and Marasigan Clinic in
1980 with wife Linda who also specialises in family
practice. She came in 1968 when there was a high
demand for doctors in Chicago.

Although she had passed the Philippine board
examination, she had to take two years of residency
and one year of internship in the US.

When life in the Philippines was simple and
peaceful (that is, prior to martial law, hyperinflation
and the AIDS epidemic, when our economy was the
envy of other Asian countries), our doctors were
content to stay put, making house calls and trudging
through rice fields.

They felt it was their calling to treat the poor barrio
folk who could hardly pay them. In return for their
dedication, these rural patients respected and loved
them to the point of shielding their eyes from the
sun.

This kind of respect is something that eludes some
of our contemporary doctors who have chosen to
practice in another country.

A Caucasian patient in New York reportedly
demanded that he be treated by a “real doctor”, not
by a Filipino. Two Filipino doctors working as
nurses in Texas were recently deported because
they had changed the orders given by the actual
(American) doctors on duty.

“The Philippines produces at least 4,000 doctors
and more than 28,000 nurses a year. Eighty-eight
per cent of the nurses and sixty eight per cent of the
doctors go abroad,” says Dr Tiongco.

It is estimated that 8,000 nurses leave the country
every year to work overseas, and almost 2,000 have
medical degrees.

Because there is a higher demand for nurses than
doctors especially in America, and it is faster to get
a nursing license than a medical license, about
5,500 doctors are now enrolled in 45 nursing
schools in the Philippines.

In the past four years, 3,500 doctors left the country
to take on nursing posts abroad. Some have even
worked as caregivers in nursing homes.

A recent UST graduate enumerates some of the
hurdles Filipino doctors face in the Philippines:
taking the tough board examination after graduation,
and if they want to go to the US , then taking the
United States medical licensing examination.

A medical graduate says it would only cost her
about P120,000 for the two-year bachelor of science
in nursing program.

While working as nurses overseas may be
financially rewarding, public health experts in the
Philippines say a dearth of medical practitioners is
killing the country’s health system.

People complain of long waits in hospitals, women
give birth without seeing a doctor, nurse or midwife.

Meningitis or strokes are often fatal because no
specialists are available.   Most Filipinos who are in
America say they do not plan to retire in the
Philippines.

“We don’t know how we can survive there anymore
with the increasing violence in most areas. We
cannot trust the government to protect us. Whereas
here in the US we feel relatively secure. We have
great medical benefits and old age pension.”

That probably says it all.
Being a caregiver is
like an initiation rite
to most Filipinos,
whatever may be
their profession or
social standing in
the Philippines
All rights reserved. Filipino Globe
Dr and Francisco Marasian and his wife went to the US om the 1960s when there was a high
demand for doctors in Chicago. More Filipino health workers have since followed suit.
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