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Medical scholarship bill backed by senators


By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senators have pushed for the approval of a bill that would grant medical scholarships to qualified Filipino students and require them to serve the country in return.

Senator Joel Villanueva (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senator Joel Villanueva
(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senate Bill No. 1520, or the proposed “Medical Scholarship Act” has been endorsed for plenary approval by Senator Joel Villanueva, chair of the Senate committee on higher education, on Wednesday, May 13.

The bill seeks to establish a medical scholarship for “deserving” Filipino students in state universities and colleges (SUCs) and in private higher education institutions in regions where there are no SUCs offering medicine.

The scholarship grant would cover tuition and all other school expenses, as well as internship, medical board review, and licensure fees.

In exchange of the scholarship, the bill proposes a mandatory return service of scholars for at least one year, in hospitals in their hometown or in underserved areas as determined by the Department of Health.

Villanueva, in his sponsorship speech, said the bill will help make medical education more accessible to Filipinos and eventually address the shortage of doctors in the Philippines.

Citing a 2017 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), Villanueva said there were 40,775 doctors in public and private health facilities in the country, which was equivalent to only 3.9 doctors for every 10,000 people.

This “is very far” from the ideal ratio of 10 doctors for every 10,000 population, Villanueva said.

He estimated that 66,350 doctors more are needed “to fill this gap”.

Villanueva attributed the lack of Filipino doctors to the “prohibitive cost of going to medical school”. For instance, he said medical education in the state-owned a Philippine General Hospital costs about P1.8 million for five years, excluding living and other school expenses.

Aside from the expensive tuition, Villanueva said most SUCs in the country do not offer medical programs.

“The lack of doctors in the country is even more aggravated by the fact that some doctors leave the country for greener pastures,” Villanueva also pointed out.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, principal author of the bill, said there has also been a “severe maldistribution” of physicians in the country, since most doctors supposedly prefer to practice in urban areas.

He cited a September, 2019 report of Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, which found that 65 percent of the total physicians in the public sector are working in Luzon, 32 percent of which are in Metro Manila alone.

On the other hand, only 18 percent of government doctors are in the Visayas, while 16 percent are in Mindanao.

“This proposed measure seeks to address both issues of scarcity and maldistribution of physicians because the granting of scholarships to deserving medical students would aid in the increase of the number of physicians in the country,” Sotto said in his co-sponsorship speech.

Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto underscored the need to invest in producing more doctors following the COVID-19 outbreak.

“[The novel] Coronavirus taught us one lesson: We have to future proof our country…This bill will ensure that there are enough doctors for our people, and that the next time a bat flies from a forest and unleashes a lethal pathogen that will bring civilization to a standstill, we have an army of white coats ready to confront it,” Recto said.

Villanueva also said: “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.”

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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