[OPINION] A young doctor's views on health workforce in PH

 LENDING A HAND. Fostering doctors' interest in serving the Philippines begins way before medical school. Image from Shutterstock

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 

Such can be said about my medical school experience at the Philippine General Hospital, the country's premier government tertiary hospital. After 5 long years of whole-day lectures, cadaver dissections, weekly hundred-item exams, small group discussions with consultants, unlimited ER admissions, and 24-hour hospital duties, our medical student days are finally over.

Alas, one thing is definitely clear: Now that we have completed 365 days of internship in the hospital, those days of reading lecture transcriptions and carrying heavy backpacks full of monitoring equipment are long gone. I’m happy to say that we are, for a moment, free from the shackles of 3-day duty cycles while reviewing for the physician licensure exams. 

Career paths 

To some, graduation means being one step closer to their childhood dream of becoming a surgeon or pediatrician. To others, the path has never been clearer as they follow in the footsteps of their parents who are doctors themselves. 

Still others prefer to take a step back from hospital life and take a year off to explore passions that have taken a back seat during medical school, may it be teaching, dancing, traveling, or public speaking. As for people like me, obstetrics and public health are fields worth taking. (READ: Life of a doctor in the barrio)

I admit that it was not a childhood dream of mine to be a doctor. No, I was neither a pre-med major nor a grade conscious junkie who badly wanted to enter medical school. It was only when I ticked a little checkbox (what they call INTARMED, or Integrated Liberal Arts and Medicine Program) on my UPCAT Application form that I was considered, and eventually got accepted into the UP College of Medicine. 

Extracurricular activities 

Apart from enjoying the academic rigor in the UP College of Medicine, it was also where I got to join student organizations and organise community health programs that sparked my interest in maternal health and public health. As a member of the Mu Sigma Phi Sorority, I actively got involved in the Mu Health Caravan, a transformative health education program for women and barangay health workers in underserved communities. 

I also saw firsthand the impact of stress and academic burnout on medical students, especially among my friends and peers, that I got inspired to delve on the topic of mental health further. Eventually, this led me to taking an internship in World Health Organization-Western Pacific Region (WHO-WPRO) Mental Health and Substance Abuse Office where I saw just how vast and exciting the field of public health is. 

Currently, I intend to continue on this path as an aspiring obstetrician-gynecologist and public health physician working towards maternal health. I, together with my friends and now colleagues in medical school, aim to shine a beacon of hope as dynamic and proactive members of the Philippine health system, as we begin and hopefully spend most of our careers in the Philippines under the Return Service Agreement, and beyond. 

Return Service Agreement in UP

The Return Service Agreement was a program established by my home institution, the University of the Philippines (UP), in response to the exodus of our physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers to the US, Europe, and other places. As we know, many of our educated and experienced health professionals have chosen to leave our homeland for greener pastures, causing health human resource shortage in our hospitals in urban and rural areas.  

The RSA requires all graduates in health-related courses in UP to serve in the country for at least two to five years after graduation, be through teaching, research, clinical practice, or community work. Through the RSA program, our university aims to assist the national government in maintaining a continuous presence of health professionals in the country, most especially in geographically disadvantaged areas. 

Love for service 

Fostering young doctors' interest in serving the Philippines begins way before medical school. It starts with values formation during elementary and high school honed during community participation opportunities in college and medical school, and finally sustained with competitive compensation, career growth opportunities and a safe environment for clinical or public health practice. 

Though the issue may be far too complex in terms of the factors that compel doctors and healthcare professionals to continue serving the Philippines after residency and fellowship training, I still long for a time when improvements in our healthcare system would produce a conducive environment to make our doctors stay and not just survive, but also thrive in their medical careers. 

I believe that most, if not all, of our doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals have a heart for service. (READ: How #NoToDoctorShaming posts highlight gaps in PH healthcare system)

In conclusion, I believe in the promise of the young people of today and tomorrow. We may be young and idealistic, but I believe that our will and passion to serve can take us and our country to places. The seeds have already been planted, and it is up to us to nurture the beginning sprouts for a bountiful harvest in the years to come. – Rappler.com

Johna Mandac is a Filipino doctor-in-training, entrepreneur, advocate, and writer from the University of the Philippines Medicine. An aspiring obstetrician gynecologist, she aims to lead in improving maternal and reproductive health. A staunch advocate against tobacco, alcohol, and substance abuse, she worked as an intern in the World Health Organization Regional Office for the Western Pacific Region (WHO-WPRO) Mental Health and Substance Abuse Unit. 

Previously, she won as a finalist in the CSR Youth Awards by the Benito and Catalino Yap Foundation and has also received recognition as Ibang Klaseng Talino Awardee in BPI Anak Expat Pinoy Awards, which aims to recognize exemplary achievements of children of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). She also served as a former external vice president of the Asian Medical Students' Association Philippines (AMSA Philippines) and co-convenor of the National Youth for Sin Tax Movement (YFST).