[In the news] New UP policy aims to stop brain drain of young doctors – Nation – GMA News Online – Latest Philippine News

New UP policy aims to stop brain drain of young doctors – Nation – GMA News Online – Latest Philippine News.

JM TUAZON, GMA News

Teddy Maranan, 21, is an incoming freshman B.S. Medicine student at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Manila.

Having graduated with a B.S. Psychology degree from UP Diliman, Teddy said he chose to study at the state-run institution because the Philippine General Hospital, considered the university’s leading teaching hospital, has a patient pool that is “unmatched” in the country.

After graduating and becoming a full-fledged doctor, however, Teddy will be required to stay and work in the country, in light of a recent policy—called the Return Service Program (RSP) —implemented by the university.

The RSP, introduced in several colleges in UP Manila this school year, is a measure aimed at addressing the growing problem of “brain drain,” which has plagued the country’s different sectors, particularly the healthcare industry, in the past years.

Data from the UP College of Medicine showed that more than 80 percent of their graduates eventually leave the country to practice medicine overseas, and the number has been increasing in the past 10 years.

In an interview with GMA News’ “Unang Balita,” Alberto Roxas, Dean of UP Manila’s College of Medicine, said graduates of the Medicine program will be required to serve the country for three years after graduation, while other colleges will require at least two years of service to the country.

According to a document posted on the UP Manila website describing the program, the colleges that are covered for the first years of implementation include the College of Allied Medical Profession (CAMP); College of Dentistry; College of Medicine; College of Nursing; College of Pharmacy; College of Public Health; and School of Health Sciences.

“[This program] is voluntary, but it is an absolute requirement for admission,” Roxas clarified. “Ibig sabihin, kung ayaw mo [pumirma ng contract], eh ‘di huwag kang pumasok sa UP.”

Roxas said the government subsidizes approximately 80 percent of medical education in the College of Medicine, so it is but fitting that the students pay this subsidy back through service to the country.

Iskolar ng Bayan

To every UP graduate, the act of “giving back” to the country after graduation is no foreign concept, as it is immortalized in what UP students have come to be known for: “Iskolar ng Bayan,” or scholars of the people.

This is a concept not lost on Maranan, who said he thinks the new policy is “fair” and that it only makes sense.

“It’s like the government is making an investment in our education, and having a policy like that only ensures that their investment pays off,” Maranan told GMA News Online.

He said he was not discouraged by the policy in continuing his UP education, since he had no plans of leaving the country for employment, anyway.

“Two or three years [are not] so bad. I have my whole life of being a doctor ahead of me,” Maranan pointed out.

This call to serve the Filipino people is a point often raised by veteran economist and UP School of Economics Professor Solita “Winnie” Monsod, whose video footage of a “last lecture” delivered at the end of one of her classes drew widespread attention online.

“If you are going to help this country, you’ve got to be in the country,” Monsod ardently stressed. “If any of you have little ambitions of going abroad so that you can earn more, please disabuse yourself, because by doing that you are essentially betraying the people in the Philippines who trusted you and who invested their money in you.”

Mixed reactions

Many Filipino Internet users shared Monsod’s view, saying it is only right for UP students to give back to the taxpayers who funded their college education.

Facebook user Mark Villanueva said, “The taxes we’ve been paying are the money that is being utilized for them to get quality education! They should have a sense of debt of gratitude to our nation by serving it for a short time, and afterwards, they can go wherever they like to!”

Ray Soberano, on the other hand, wanted a lengthier rule. “Why two years lang?” he asked. “It should be more, I think. Say 4 to 5?”

This was an opinion shared by Luzviminda Sabater Manalo, who said: “Mas mainam po siguro kung lifetime. UP students, we all know that they are intelligent. UP [graduates] must use and/or practice [their] skills here in the Philippines. Pilipinas po dapat ang makinabang sa kanilang angking talento.”

Franz dela Fuente, on the other hand, welcomed the move, saying it could inspire UP students to give more to the country. “It’s pretty obvious that UP students ought to give back to the Filipino taxpayers, but this hasn’t been happening. A clear, admin-initiated rule ought to do the trick.”

Not many, however, were impressed by UP Manila’s new directive, for obvious inconsistencies with the essence of the policy.

“Serve in the country, sa dami ng jobless and low employment rate eh paano kung wala silang mahanap na job?” asked Mikhail Angeles Ortiz.

Paul Jimenez, meanwhile, questioned the need to dictate to students their career choices. “Well, sa una tama! Pero on the other side of the coin, parang mali naman yata na diktahan ang isang tao sa kanyang kagustuhan. Let their freedom ‘democratize’ the way na parehong walang masasaktan,” he said.

Maggie Gallardo-Ninobla, on the other hand, felt the need to point out the obvious: “The intention is very noble and timely, I totally agree. But the word ‘required’? Hmmm… hindi ba dapat inculcated na sa kanila yung values to serve the country? Parang ‘coerced’ ka, sana hindi naman,” she said.

Labor exports

Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino, meanwhile, echoed Ninobla’s point. In a phone interview with GMA News Online, Palatino said serving the country should be a voluntary effort by the student.

“If they are required to stay in the country for two years, pero yung commitment nila ay wala doon, defeated din yung purpose to maximize their skills for the community,” he pointed out.

He said the challenge for UP, instead of implementing a mandatory policy, is to inculcate in the students’ mindsets the need to serve the country.

“Delicate itong situation na ito in a sense, because we have to balance the right of people to travel, and at the same time we have to address the brain drain,” he said.

Palatino likewise pointed out the obvious inconsistencies with the policy’s intentions against the national government’s labor policies.

“The irony here is that UP is a state agency requiring students to stay in the country, but it is the national government that is continuing to implement a labor export policy,” he said.

Palatino said a better, long-term approach would be to re-orient the students as early as elementary and high school about the need to serve the country.

“Isipin mo ‘yung magiging impact ng ganong waiver sa estudyante. Iisipin nila, ‘So I served my country for two years, tapos na ‘ko.’ Shortcut, eh. It’s a desperate measure,” he stressed.

“Young people are leaving not because they are unpatriotic, but because we don’t have opportunities here,” he added.

Local job market

UP’s Roxas said the challenge for the program right now is finding appropriate employment for the first few batches who would be graduating in the next three years.

“Ang challenge dito, by 2016, three classes na ‘yun ng College of Medicine ang nasa Pilipinas, 480 medical graduates who are staying in the Philippines to serve the country,” he said.

The College of Medicine dean said they are coordinating with the Department of Health to absorb the graduates into programs in government hospitals, local government units and the Doctors to the Barrios program.

“Talagang sa pamamagitan nito, pwedeng ma-mitigate natin ‘yung impact ng brain drain. Isipin mo ‘yan, sila ang mapupunta sa mga munisipyo na walang doktor dati,” he pointed out.

The Department of Labor of Employment (DOLE), however, is a bit skeptical about the new policy, saying it could contribute to underemployment in the country.

In another phone interview with GMA News Online, an official of DOLE’s Bureau of Local Employment who refused to be identified, said the sufficiency of job opportunities in the country is not a problem.

“The issue in the market today is the job-skills mismatch. May mga trabaho pero hindi nakaakma doon sa tinapos ng estudyante,” the DOLE official said.

In terms of healthcare professionals who will be graduating under the program, he said the graduates may be absorbed by upcoming industries such as the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector.

“In healthcare, nagkakaroon na ng market sa BPO. Merong mga medical transcriptionists, or those who provide medical advise through the phone,” he noted.

East-West collaborations

In a recent forum at the UP College of Medicine, a “balikbayan” doctor admonished Monsod for her remarks against those who chose to leave the country and work abroad, and underscored the importance of collaborating with other nations, especially in the field of medicine.

In his speech, Dr. Ponciano Cruz Jr. said “East-West collaborations” in the field of medicine should be explored, and the knowledge and experience of Filipino doctors overseas must be “embraced and utilized” to optimize the medical training being done in the Philippines.

Cruz cited the case of world-renowned boxer Manny Pacquiao and singer Charice Pempengco, whose skills, Cruz said, were enhanced by Americans.

“It shows the fusion and synergy of the US and the Philippines. If this collaboration is possible for entertainment, why not for medicine?” Cruz asked. —with Candice Montenegro/KBK/HS, GMA News

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