Decent compensation
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - October 29, 2015 - 10:00am

Here’s a positive development: enrolment in medical school is on the rise.

On the other hand, interest in nursing is waning. This is due to the glut in nursing graduates following the mushrooming of nursing schools in recent years even as global demand slumped.

We need both nurses and doctors, of course, but at one point nursing became so popular even practicing doctors were studying to become nurses. I know at least one major nursing school in Metro Manila that decided to turn away such enrollees, to discourage the trend and keep intact our corps of doctors.

I learned about the rising enrolment from officials of the Far Eastern University’s Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation, where I addressed the graduating class the other day. Of the 200 graduates, 141 were doctors, 42 finished medical laboratory science and 10 finished physical therapy. Fewer than 10 were nursing graduates.

This is a major change from the days when the 100 nursing schools in the country surged to about 1,000 as global demand for nurses soared and Filipinos were among the first to answer the call. Suddenly, even computer schools were operating nursing schools.

When there’s a surge in quantity, quality tends to suffer. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED), hard-pressed to regulate the nursing schools that had mushroomed all over, began shutting down underperforming ones – meaning those with a low percentage of graduates who hurdle the nursing board examinations.

Or at least the CHED tried to shut them down. As in many other enterprises in this country, school operators also have political patrons who block closure orders issued by the CHED. In certain cases, political clans themselves run the schools.

Eventually, market forces will probably accomplish what the CHED failed to do. If major schools such as FEU are seeing a plunge in nursing enrolment, think of what the fly-by-night schools are now experiencing.

* * *

The global nursing glut was due to rising competition from other developing countries that were stepping up their export of human resources, with their workers taking crash courses in English and reducing the edge of Pinoys.

Our health professionals still have an edge in the tender loving care that makes Filipinos stand out anywhere, but the global market for nurses has substantially shrunk.

So the Nicanor Reyes Medical Foundation has seen a decline in nursing enrolment. But foundation president Antonio Abad Jr. was happy to inform me that enrolment in medical school was steadily rising.

He’s also glad to note the interest in physical therapy, which is a five-year course. Global demand for PT cannot be met, he noted. Demand is also high for specialists in areas such as pathology and radiology.

Perhaps senior high school students can use more career counseling to inform them about specialized skills that are in high demand. Filipinos in the US, for example, have told me that there’s a big demand for forensic pathologists.

Education officials have said that the downward trend in enrolment in teaching courses is finally being reversed. This may be due to reports that there’s a rising demand for Filipinos to teach English overseas.

* * *

Our ultimate goal, of course, should not be to fill job vacancies abroad but right here in our country. If there’s a high demand for certain medical specialists around the world, the situation has to be similar in the Philippines, which can’t afford to replace lost skills with imported talent.

Despite the glut in nurses, many of our hospitals lack nursing staff. As in other saturated labor markets, pay is low. Perhaps if hospitals offered higher pay, they could entice nurses for long-term employment.

But there are hospital administrators who think – often correctly – that nursing graduates just want to have the required number of years on the job for overseas employment. So the new hires get interns’ pay.

The salaries can be so low there are nurses who opt to work instead in call centers rather than toil especially in government hospitals, while waiting to land a job overseas.

Over a year ago the estimated number of unemployed Philippine nurses was 350,000. Meanwhile, government hospitals and health centers in underserved areas continue to suffer from a shortage of nursing staff and other health professionals.

So it’s good to know that there’s increasing enrolment in medical school. Whether they will work in the country is another story.

* * *

Foundation president Antonio Abad Jr. admits the difficulty of competing for talent with hospitals abroad.

Among the medical school graduates, one skipped the commencement exercises because, I was told, the student had already left the country.

Today nursing schools have been replaced by culinary academies. Tuition is steep, but with the relatively short period for completing a course, the big job market and good compensation, a career in the culinary arts has become attractive.

Filipino chefs of various skills levels can be found from the White House to hotels, restaurants, resorts and cruise ships around the world. But the pay is also good in our country, and many graduates are entrepreneurial, opening their own food businesses here. So at least we’re not running out of chefs. This shows that when there’s the prospect of reasonably good compensation, we can hold on to our workforce, our most precious resource.

This is not the case for health professionals, especially doctors. The medical graduates of the Nicanor Reyes foundation came from as far away as Kalinga-Apayao and Sultan Kudarat. Will they go back to their provinces to serve there?

As in any profession, doctors need decent compensation. If they can’t get it here, they will look for it elsewhere.


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