House of Representatives

House OKs bill on medical scholarship and return service program

Mara Cepeda
Once the scholars get their license as doctors, they would be required to serve in their hometowns for at least 4 years

The House of Representatives approved a bill that would offer scholarships to deserving students who wish to become doctors, later requiring them to serve in their hometowns for at least 4 years.

Voting 245-0-0, lawmakers approved House Bill (HB) No. 6756 or the proposed “Medical Scholarship and Return Service (MSRS) Program Act” on 3rd and final reading on Monday, August 10. 

If passed into law, the MSRS would require the government to grant a Doctor of Medicine degree scholarship to at least one qualified student from each municipality in the country so they can study in a public or private medical school of their choosing.

If no applicant from a particular town passes, then another student from a neighboring municipality would be considered for the slot.

Once the scholars complete their degrees and earn their license as physicians, they would be required to return to their hometowns and serve in either a government hospital or public health office there for at least four years or equivalent to every scholarship year.

Those who would receive a 4-year scholarship have 6 years to finish the mandatory service program, while those who would enroll in a 5-year course have 7 years to complete their return service. 

That would be on top of other return service requirements of their medical school. Residency training would not be considered part of the mandatory service program.

Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez, one of the primary authors of the bill, said the MSRS program is designed to help the country address the lack of doctors in rural areas during the crisis caused by the coronavirus, which has infected nearly 130,000 people in the Philippines.

“[This is] the answer to the lack of doctors in rural areas. It will open the opportunity for poor but deserving students to pursue a degree in medicine and serve their communities in the countryside,” Rodriguez said in a statement. 

The Senate version of the medical scholarship program bill already passed the committee level and is set to be sponsored in the plenary for its 2nd and 3rd reading approvals.

A study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies showed about 75% of cities and municipalities in the country potentially have insufficient number of health workers. 

This is because Filipino physicians, professional nurses, and professional midwives are more likely to work in areas where earnings are potentially high, and near communities where they were trained. (READ: Hospitals in the Philippines: Where they are – and aren’t)

What will the scholarship cover?

If HB 6756 is passed into law, the MSRS program would shoulder the costs of the following:

  • tuition and other school fees
  • allowance for books, supplies, and equipment
  • clothing or uniform allowance
  • allowance for dormitory or boarding house accommodation
  • transportation allowance
  • internship fees, including financial assistance during post-graduate internship
  • medical board review fees
  • annual medical insurance
  • other education-related miscellaneous subsistence or living allowances
How will a student qualify?

To qualify for the medical scholarship program, a student must be a Filipino citizen and a graduate or graduating student of a prerequisite course for a medicine degree. 

He or she must also pass the entrance examination of the state or private college or university he or she wishes to attend. 

The applicant’s National Medical Admission Test results should also meet the standards set by the Commission on Higher Education and the cut-off score required by his or her chosen school.

What are the grounds for disqualification?

A medical student’s scholarship would be revoked for 4 reasons:

  • if the scholar accepts another scholarship from another government agency or private organization while enjoying the benefits of the MSRS program
  • if the scholar fails 40% of his or her subjects or fails to meet the academic requirements of the school without valid reason
  • if the scholar fails to pass the licensure examination for physicians twice
  • if the scholar is found guilty of behavioral misconduct
What are the sanctions for scholars-turned-doctors who refuse to do the return service program?

A physician who availed of the MSRS program yet refuses to comply with the mandatory service program would be required to pay twice the full cost of the scholarship.

If he or she refuses to pay, then the Professional Regulation Commission would no longer renew his or her license.

These sanctions, however, would not apply to a scholar-doctor who would be unable to complete the mandatory service requirement due to severe illness. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.