Docs with a mission

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Thursday, February 5, 2015


THERE are many stories of doctors heading abroad to find greener pastures. Some of these doctors, however, are still drawn back to the country even after finding better paying jobs abroad.

Dr. Vincent Vicente is one of them. Vicente currently works at the Community Health and Development Cooperative Hospital in Davao City, doing minor surgeries and assisting his father in major surgeries. He also has work in the Bureau of Corrections as a medical officer.

Aside from Dr. Vicente, another doctor who has come home from overseas is Dr. Bong Ybiernas. Ybiernas currently works at Central Lab as an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Doctor. Aside from his ENT capabilities, Dr. Ybiernas also practices head and neck surgery, and is also certified by the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine to practice aesthetic medicine. Ybiernas is also a member of the Philippine College of Occupational Medicine, also doing occupational medicine such as hearing conservation programs for factory workers.

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Both Dr. Vicente and Dr. Ybiernas have come back to Davao after spending years working in the USA in search of greener pastures.

Taking opportunities

Vicente said that he left in 2002, around the same time that a lot of doctors were going out of the country.

"I was a chief resident for the department of surgery at San Pedro Hospital when I had a work offer sa Chicago as a quality assurance supervisor for nurses and PT. So when I got the offer, they gave me a working visa and I went there," he said.

Dr. Vicente shared that there's a big difference between working here and in the United States, primarily in the pay. "I started at $15 per hour then when I went to Jacksonville in Florida it went up to $25 per hour. You have more time there. Unlike here, you get called several times, parating kang may schedules," he shared.

Ybiernas, for his part, took the opportunity to go the United States by taking up a degree in nursing while he was here. He said, "I went to the US because I took up nursing. I was one of those doctors back in early 2000, there were lots of doctors in the Philippines who got into nursing because that's the easiest way to get into the US. I went to Florida, I became a nurse there, I worked there for six years in my capacity as a nurse. But eventually I moved to the University of Florida as a research coordinator, at a facility for new drug development."

Despite having stable jobs in the United States, Ybiernas and Vicente came back to the Philippines, and for very similar reasons.

Returning home

Dr. Vicente came back in 2009. "It was more of a family thing. My wife was sick for almost two years so we had to bring her over here. And then she finally passed away. Then I had two kids, and you know how it is there, if you have two kids, you cannot just leave them at the house, so I decided to bring them back here," Dr. Vicente shared.

For Ybiernas, family brought him back as well. He said, "It was really more of a family reason because my wife and two children were left here. Although they can go back there anytime, it was more of a choice made by my wife and I, as we felt we're better off here in all aspects. I still have plans of going back to the States. I'm a US citizen so I'm planning to go there for further studies since there's an easy access to the universities and institutions. I'm just enjoying both worlds now. The Philippines is not bad, there are a lot of good things here that we can enjoy, but being overseas, you're away from your family and friends."

Vicente also spoke of adjustments he had to make when he worked in the United States, saying, "In a way it's a big adjustment, since when you're a physician here, you're used to doing things na parang boss then suddenly, though you go there as a supervisor, the treatment is much different. They take you as equals, and nobody really calls you a boss."

Despite this, Vicente says that once you get used to it and get to humble down, he finds it much more fun working that way.

But as far as fulfillment in work is concerned, Vicente says he feels that work here is more fulfilling. "Work is kind of fulfilling here, I feel like I can help more, help the Filipinos who don't have a lot of money. I'm also working with an NGO. I go around Mindanao doing work sa NGO. And then, I really find it fulfilling, helping people, even if the pay is not as much," he shared.

Ybiernas revealed that when he came back from the United States, that was when he took the time to specialize in things other than ENT, as he felt that he could help more Filipinos if he had more capabilities. Despite this, he noted that he has trouble re-establishing himself here as he feels like he is a new doctor again after spending so much time working as a nurse overseas.

"It's kind of hard for me because it's like starting from scratch again. I'm glad that there's this group of doctors who own this complex, Central Lab. They don't have an ENT here, so I joined their group," he added.

After settling in their current workplaces, however, they noted that there are some problems in the health care system here compared to how things were run overseas, and shared how they felt some things could be improved.

Vicente shared the problems in his work at the infirmary in the correctional facility. He shared that despite it being called an infirmary, it lacks facilities and medicines.

"We have a hard time requesting for the meds there. And I don't even have my own computer, or my own office. In that place, there's a lot of things there that are lacking. But they said that they're doing some modernization," he shared.

He also addressed the issue of alleged lack of doctors here, saying, "The problem is lots of doctors want to practice here in the city, but the need is not in the city. It's in the far flung areas."

"The problem is there are just a few doctors who want to work there, pero ba't ka pa pupunta dun? Saan ang pera? The money is here in the city. If you practice as a medical officer in the LGU, how much does it pay you? If you go private practice, pag nasa surgery ka, just one surgery, that's already 50,000 for three hours or two hours. So if you do the math, you'd rather stay here. I think that's where the problem is, pag sinabi na kulang ang doctors, kulang lang ang distribution of doctors," Vicente added.

Ybiernas, on the other hand, addressed the issue that local hospitals are lacking in facilities. He said that from his time training in ENT in the Southern Philippines Medical Center, he's seen that there are a lot of improvements already. Vicente echoed this sentiment, saying, "I think that for local hospitals here, like SPMC, they're up to date, it's just the facilities there that I'm looking at. SPMC has their cardio center, trauma center, so I think in a way it's complete."

Ybiernas however, he said that there are a lot of improvements still to be made, but the problems boils down to money. "I think there are a lot of improvements already but I don't think the amount of financial resources given by the government is enough to serve these people. There are a lot of things that have to be done to improve our healthcare system. It still boils down to money," he explained.

The two doctors, however, also shared how they think the current situations in the healthcare system could be improved.

For Vicente, he feels that procedures should be streamlined, and he's working on that idea by starting small, trying to apply it to his current workplace. "There should be a manual of policies and procedures, like a book. When I went there to the correctional facility, they didn't have anything of the sort so now I'm trying to streamline it. When I was in the States, that was what I was doing, the policies and procedures, I think that's needed here sa tinatrabahoan ko," he explained.

As for the shortage of doctors in the provinces, Vicente said that the best way to get doctors to serve in far-flung areas is to get scholars from the areas in question. "Sila yung may puso to go back to their home eh," he explained.

Ybiernas, on the other hand, shared that doctors here should be compensated better, noting that he makes more overseas as a nurse than he does here as a doctor. "I think there is really a need for doctors to be really compensated well. I feel like doctors in the government aren't really compensated well. There is such a big gap between doctors income here in the government and those working in the US, or even those working as a nurse. Otherwise, if there is an opportunity open for them, it's easy for them to go out and move to the other side of the fence," he said.

In the face of all the difficulties facing the health care system here, and opportunities overseas, however, both of them still see their long-term plans carried out here.

Ybiernas is still eyeing a return to the US to pursue further studies to become a clinician there. When he's done with that, however, he sees himself as coming back here to share the knowledge he's gained to younger people aspiring to become doctors. "But I see myself retiring here, that's for sure. But by then, if I'm retiring I could be in the academe," he shared.

Vicente also said he's set on retiring in the Philippines, and is committed to helping Filipinos who need proper health care.

"Ang iba ngayon want to be a doctor because it's cool, but it's not about that. For me, nandun yung fulfillment. I really enjoy helping people kasi when you go back home, sarap ng tulog mo knowing that you helped a life, na hindi mo kinunan ng pera," Vicente said.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 06, 2015.

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