MANILA, Philippines — The Senate on Monday voted 22-0 to approve the proposed Medical Scholarship Act on its third and final reading.
Senate Bill 1520, also known as the Doktor Para sa Bayan Act, seeks to grant scholarships to aspiring doctors as well as widen access to medical care.
The bill was principally authored by Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto and Sen. Joel Villanueva, who chairs the Committee on Higher and Technical Education.
The measure sets up a medical scholarship and return service program, which grants scholarships to deserving students aspiring to become physicians.
“We will give free medical education to poor and deserving students in all our regions but we will also require them to render a return service, fitting and proper to the Filipino people, from medical doctors who were educated from the government’s coffers,” Villanueva said in his third reading manifestation for the bill.
In a separate statement released Monday, the lawmaker said the bill “seeks to encourage more students to take up medicine, and help improve the the country’s doctor-patient ratio.”
Citing data from the Department of Health, Villanueva called the current ratio of doctors “dismal” at three doctors per 10,000 of the population.
He added that the Philippines needs to produce over 80,000 doctors to meet the World Health Organization-prescribed ratio of 10 doctors per 10,000 population.
As it stands, the lawmaker said there are only nine public medical schools in the country “while medical education remains the most expensive course in the Philippines.”
Under the measure, medical students in state universities and colleges, as well as private medical schools can apply to be included in the scholarship program.
Section 8 of the bill requires that, within a year of passing licensure examination for physicians, “the scholar shall serve in a government public health office or government hospital in the scholar’s hometown… for one year for every year that the scholarship has been availed of.”
Alternatively, if there is a threat to the scholar’s safety, the proposed law says the doctor may serve “in any underserved municipality determined by the [Department of Health] as a priority area.”
In addition to this, Villanueva said the proposed Medical Scholarship Act “sets up a mechanism for state universities and colleges to partner with government hospitals to serve as training institutions.”
“In the short term, the bill will double the number of scholars under existing scholarship programs of the Department of Health and the Commission on Higher Education, which currently have around 3,000 scholars,” Villanueva said. — Bella Perez-Rubio