MIND YOUR BODY By Willie T. Ong, MD | MANILA, Philstar, 07/03/07 — We are new Medical Board passers. I want to take up pediatrics while my friend wants to take up neurology. Were bothered that some of our senior consultants are advising us to leave the country. We hear so much negativity among doctors about the current health situation (low health budget, lack of support for doctors, malpractice bills). But we really want to stay and serve our people. Can you help us decide? Dr. R. and Dr. M.
I have listed 10 benefits of staying. Lest we be misunderstood, we are not forcing doctors to stay, but just helping them make an informed decision. We respect and miss our colleagues abroad. We believe they have valid reasons for leaving. In addition, we also dont think doctors who leave are unpatriotic. Many Filipino doctors abroad still find ways to help their country. However, if you feel something is urging you to stay, then check out our list of reasons to stay.
1. Values of our children
Where do you want your children to grow up? What values and influences do you want them exposed to? A colleague said that her main reason for staying is for her children. Shes been to the States to visit relatives but was disheartened to see the change of values.
2. Gain time with parents and relatives
One of the pleasures of medical practice is when colleagues abroad call us to see their sick dad or mom. Were happy to alleviate the panic of a colleague who has to rely on long-distance caring for his parents. Somehow, this makes us appreciate our parents every time they call for a cough, a body ache or just something they read in the papers. During the prime of a doctors career, their parents are usually in their 60s to 70s. Where do you want to be during these times?
3. Pinoy food, movie stars, happy faces
More reasons to stay: adobo, sinigang na hipon, lechon de leche, kare-kare, crispy pata, Teriyaki Boy, bagoong, boneless bangus, sapin-sapin, suman, green and yellow mangoes, buko, Kris Aquino, Manny Pacquiao, Baguio, Boracay, Glorietta, SM Megamall, restaurants, bars, old hangouts and seeing old friends.
4. Caring and intelligent doctors needed here
If youve seen the poverty around us, youll realize one thing: our country desperately needs compassionate and capable doctors. Instead of serving foreign patients with health insurance and huge government support, why not consider making a difference in the lives of a few poor Filipinos? The rich patient can choose any doctor he wants, but the poor have nowhere to go. As former Health Secretary Dr. Alberto Romualdez says, Filipinos are not dying of rare, untreatable diseases. They are dying from lack of access to medical care.
5. Thousands of potential patients will not be healed.
A brilliant Filipino neurologist, whose efforts helped stroke patients, left the country. Another outstanding cardiologist, an expert at fixing heart rhythms, left too. As the country lost these two pioneering doctors, so did the thousands of poor Filipinos lose the chance to be treated with their skills.
One doctor typically sees a few thousand patients every year, including charity patients. So if this doctor leaves, whos going to pick up the slack for his charity work?
6. Success abroad not guaranteed
While opportunities may be greater abroad, there are real obstacles along the way. First, you get homesick so you try to immerse yourself in work. And then theres discrimination. And of course, you have to take the expensive US licensure exams and start training again. Regarding peace and order, they also have terrorist attacks everywhere.
7. Brain drain opened up lots of opportunities here.
Whereas before you had hundreds of doctors vying for a few hospital residency slots, now many resident positions are vacant. You can enter your choice of hospital for training, even the best ones. Fewer doctors mean less competition. This translates to more patient load (better training) and more income for doctors who stay. With the tilting supply-and-demand balance, the medical playing field is changing fast. As one doctor remarked about the brain drain, I dont see any problem because that only means more patients for me.
8. People here are working for change.
Many people here are trying their best to improve the working conditions for health workers. Generally, doctors have the support of the public and the media, which published several pro-doctor news in 2005-2006. Many senators and congressmen have also voiced their support for health workers.
The First Gentleman has also started his scholarship funds for medical students and doctors in PLM and UP-PGH. Ive been getting lots of positive feedback already. If the best and brightest of our health workers leave, then whos going to lead the charge here?
9. They always come back.
Theres no place like home. In your twilight years, coming back after retirement can be difficult, too. Its hard to stay in the Philippines, because the kids were raised in the States and cant stay long here. Its hard to stay in the States, too because as we get older, something tugs at us to go home. Attending a class anniversary, a wedding or a fiesta, receiving a letter of need, visiting a sick relative, remodeling the ancestral home, helping a dilapidated school, going on to medical missions, the taste of mangoes, the smell of sampaguita, the sound of the waves, the love of the family. Something is calling you home to stay.
10. Your destiny and legacy
Where are you planted? Where will you bloom? What is Gods will for you? Where do you see yourself spending the best and most productive years of your life? Pray and look inside yourself. The answer, whether to stay or to leave, is inside you.