The lack of healthcare workers is a persistent problem nationwide. Much has been written about the shortage of doctors and nurses. Apparently, even midwives and medical technologists are in short supply, particularly outside of urban areas.

Director for the Department of Health’s MIMAROPA region Eduardo Janairo refers to medical technologists as a pillar of the health system. “They are an indispensable pillar because you have medical laboratories,” he told MIMS in an interview. He added hospitals cannot be accredited without these allied health care professionals.

The region, composed of five island provinces – Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan – is in dire need of medtechs.

Dr Janairo cites the case of Marinduque (population: 300,000), which in 2014 only had three medical technologists to serve its public health facilities. Two of those were from Lucena town, nearly a two-hour boat ride away. “So every time there was a need for a medtech, you could not find one,” he lamented.

Fast-track solution

Medical technology is a four-year course. But the regional health chief wanted to fast-track filling up the positions of medical technologists. “I cannot wait four years to have a medtech,” he stressed.

Janairo eventually thought of a win-win solution: provide scholarships to professional healthcare workers to take up a second degree – medical technology.

The region opened the scholarship program to graduates of nursing and midwifery. With enough subject credits from their previous courses, it should only take two years to complete the programme, so government hospitals and rural health units (RHU) in the region will have their own medical technologists within two years.

For the first batch of MIMAROPA scholars, seven passed the screening and the entrance examinations of St. Jude College in Manila, which agreed to partner with the region to implement the programme.

Five of the scholars – mostly nurses and midwives – have since passed the board exams for Medical Technology and have been deployed to local health facilities. Two others are reviewing for the licensure examination set at the end of August.

Addressing concerns

Dave Erwin Festin, the first from the batch to graduate and become a licensed medtech, explained that he finished ahead of the others because all the general education subjects required for the course that he had taken up in nursing were accredited by the college, which was not the case for his batch mates.

Another good thing that came out of the scholarship programme was that more people from the region became aware of the need for medical technologists. As a result, families were encouraged to support children to take up the course, in a private capacity, so there will be even more medtechs to serve the region in the near future, Janairo enthused.

Still, more are needed. When interviewed by MIMS, Dave said he has been assigned – on contractual basis – to a public hospital and a rural health unit in his native Oriental Mindoro. He works three days at a hospital and two at the RHU, often serving 80 in-patients plus more outpatients, on a daily basis, to emphasize the lack of HCWs.

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A licensed nurse, Dave already had three years of community health experience prior to applying for the scholarship. He was initially half-hearted about it, worried that he would not be able to provide for his family’s needs, being part-breadwinner, if he stopped working.

He brought his concerns to Janairo, who understood the nurse's plight and offered to match the salary Dave was receiving at that time with the monthly allowance to be given to scholars.

Dave’s salary of Php 18,000 has since been set as the allowance for scholars, and those that had similar concerns were only too glad to accept the scholarship after this assurance.

Return service

And this has become a great motivator for those applying for the scholarship in the succeeding batches. As fourth year medtech student Jonald Regio put it ”We are being paid to study.” The arrangement, however ideal sounding, is not a walk in the park. Scholars are required to maintain a grade average of 2.5 and have to keep a daily time record (DTR), signed by the college dean and the DOH field health officer, which is submitted before they receive their monthly allowance.

While the regional health office takes care of the tuition fee and provides a book allowance of Php 5,000 per semester and a uniform allowance each year, scholars use part of their allowance for their board and lodging and transportation expenses. They do share an apartment, just a stone-s throw away from the school. 

In return, each scholar that successfully completes the course and passes the licensure exam must serve two years for each year of scholarship they received. And while the regional director is willing to continue the program, he has sought the commitment of local chief executives to eventually absorb the medtech graduates and provide them plantilla items to ensure regular jobs with benefits. 

Dr Janairo's plan is not only meant to address the shortage in medical technologists in the region, it also provides natives of MIMAROPA the opportunity to be gainfully employed without having to leave their hometown and families.

While some of the scholars like Jonald admit seeking employment abroad is an option, his decision to stay and care for his ailing parents is made easier with the programme, especially knowing there is work waiting for him after completing his second degree.

The MIMAROPA scholars feel there is added pressure to perform well in school because they not only have previous medical training and education but experience as well. Classmates look up to them as big brothers or sisters and often seek their help when it comes to the clinical setting and passing exams with flying colours.

The regional office has also started offering scholarships for pharmacy, as a second degree, in order to fill the workforce gap in the five provinces, especially in public health facilities. 

Joel Macatol, a registered nurse also from Oriental Mindoro, is one of two who was selected for a scholarship slot in this new programme. He acknowledges pharmacy is more tedious because of the voluminous information they need to learn and memorize but sees more possibilities in terms of career growth once he graduates and becomes licensed. MIMS

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