By Mario Casayuran
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto Monday refiled his “One Town, One Doctor” bill, a novel scholarship program in which government finances the schooling of one medical student from a town – on the condition that when he becomes a doctor, he will serve his town for four years.
Recto said the program addresses a key mandate of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act.
The Act successfully pushed through in the 17th Congress by then-Senator Joseph Victor ‘’JV’’ Ejercito calls for the training and deployment of an adequate number of public physicians nationwide.
“Without health personnel, there is no health care. You have to send ‘white coats’ to the places where they are needed most by those who have the least in life,” he said.
But sending more public doctors to rural areas—where latest data pegs an average one physician for every 33,000 inhabitants—is hobbled by a “range of disincentives” such as high cost of medical schooling, low pay, and absence of opportunities for further training, among others.
Recto said this could be partially solved by setting up a “conveyor of talent” in which a town would never run out of local-born doctors who will serve his townmates.
“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 townmates,” 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 years. So we create an unbroken chain,” Recto explained.
To be administered by the Department of Health (DOH), the scholarship will cover “tuition, laboratory and miscellaneous fees, and other related school fees; textbooks, supplies and equipment; clothing and uniform allowances; traveling expenses and subsistence and living allowance.”
The scholar must belong to the upper 30 percent of a graduating class of any of the undergraduate prerequisite courses for a doctoral degree in medicine.
That candidate must have passed the admission tests and related requirements of the medical school that the scholar plans to enroll in.
Recto said the scholarship is merit-based and not an unconditional automatic entitlement. “There will be admission and retention standards to be met.”
“If none from a town qualifies, then the slot can be taken by the nearest town. Or the total can be clustered by the number of towns in a province. The scholar, however, upon getting his license to practice, will serve in the town which provided the slot,” he said.
Producing one doctor per town “is an investment with a high social ROI (Rate of Investment),’’ he said.
“It is also affordable. It is cheaper to produce one doctor than to produce a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) or the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA). If we need soldiers, all the more that we need surgeons. And we need more physicians than policemen,’’ he added.