The Senate has begun the plenary deliberation into a proposed measure that seeks to grant scholarships to qualified students pursuing a medical degree in exchange for a return-of-service arrangement that would bridge the gap in the lack of doctors around the country.
Delivering the sponsorship speech on the Medical Scholarship bill on Wednesday, Senator Joel Villanueva pointed out that the yawning doctor-to-patient ratio has become more glaring today as the government grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic around the country.
“The passage of this measure is long overdue. No event in recent history has demonstrated with pristine clarity the urgent need to increase the number of medical professionals in the country. The time to establish a Medical Scholarship and Return Service Program is now,” said Villanueva, chair of the Senate Committee on Higher, and Technical and Vocational Education.
The country continues to lag behind the ideal ratio of 10 doctors for every 10,000 population, as recommended by the World Health Organization, which recorded in a 2017 study that there are only 40,775 doctors in the country or a ratio of 3.9 doctors for every 10,000 population.
To meet the ideal ratio, the country needs to produce 66,350 doctors, Villanueva explained.
The lawmaker lamented that while most doctors practice in urban areas like Metro Manila where there are 10.6 doctors for every 10,000 population, it is not assured “that a sick person can be attended to immediately when he/she goes to a hospital there.”
Senate Bill No. 1520, the consolidated measure that incorporates several other bills filed in the 18th Congress tackling the same issue, seeks to establish a Medical Scholarship and Return Service Program which gives scholarships to qualified students in exchange for a return service in the country’s public health system.
The scholarship program shoulders the following: tuition and other school fees; board, lodging, transportation and other miscellaneous fees; internship fee; medical board review cost, and licensure fee.
After scholars complete their studies, they will 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.
“The mandatory return service will allow beneficiaries to serve an underserved public health office or government hospital. The Department of Health will determine the priority areas, but the recipient’s hometown will be first in the order of priority,” Villanueva said.
“In the long run, we hope to see to it that the medical profession is accessible to the masses. In so doing, we hope to make medical doctors and health services available to every Filipino across the country,” he added./Stacy Ang