Tolentino pushes for waiver of medicine board exams to allow grads to fight COVID-19

MANILA, Philippines – As the Philippines struggles to contain the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases, a number of doctors and health workers have also been infected by the highly contagious virus. Sadly, three doctors have already lost their lives.
Tolentino pushes for waiver of medicine board exams to allow grads to fight COVID-19

With many hospitals already having a problem with manpower as their frontliners are placed under quarantine, many feared that there would soon be a shortage of health workers. The Department of Health (DOH) has already issued an appeal for volunteer doctors and nurses to help serve in the referral hospitals the agency plans to set up for COVID-19 cases.

In line with that, Senator Francis Tolentino wrote a letter to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, asking the government to allow medical graduates to render service in hospitals even without a license.

Tolentino also pushed for a waiver of the medicine board exams so that these new doctors can be immediately deployed to help support health workers in government hospitals. If the proposal is approved, there will be over 1,500 medical graduates who would become doctors.

Tolentino was referring to the medicine board exam graduates who took the March 2020 Physician Licensure Examination (PLE). The first two days of exams (March 8 and 9) were pushed through but due to COVID-19 situation, the last two days of tests (March 15 and 16) were postponed by the Professional Regulation Commission.

“It is urged that these graduates from all the medical schools in the Philippines be authorized to practice medicine and to be registered as doctors, without having to take the Physician Licensure Examination, upon waiver of the same by the Professional Regulation Commission, so that they can immediately be deployed to support the government and local government unit (LGU) hospitals,” Tolentino wrote to Duque.

“Under the law, in Sec. 12 of Republic Act No. 2382, the Medical Act of 1959, as amended, it provides that during epidemics or national emergencies, medical students who have completed the first four years of medical course, graduates of medicine, and registered nurses are allowed to render medical services upon authorization by the Secretary of Health without need of a certificate of registration.

In a national health crisis, such as a pandemic, we are also at war, with the lives of our countrymen at stake, and our health workers are on the front lines, but they need reinforcements now. In such extraordinary times, we need to adopt all measures to save the lives of the Filipino people.”

Proposal gets mixed reactions

Tolentino added that Italy adopted a similar system wherein 10,000 medical graduates were allowed to become a doctor to boost the workforce amid the pandemic.

“Sa Italy, ginawa na nila ito. Hindi na nila pinakuha ng licensure examination ang 10,000 nilang medical graduates at pinayagan na silang maging ganap na mga doktor para agad silang makatulong sa COVID-19 health crisis nila duon,” the lawmaker said.

Although it had good intentions, the proposal was met with mixed reactions. While there were those who agreed with the lawmaker, saying that the Philippines really needs as many health workers as it could, others don’t agree about simply letting the graduates become doctors without passing the medicine board exams.

Others pointed out that medical students can still help but the special authorization ends once the epidemic is cleared.

Section 12 (c) of The Medical Act of 1959 states: “Medical students who have completed the first four year of medical course, graduates of medicine and registered nurses who may be given limited and special authorization by the Secretary of Health to render services during epidemics or national emergencies whenever the services of duly registered physicians are not available. Such authorization shall automatically cease when the epidemic or national emergency is declared terminated by the Secretary of Health.”

So, the medical students can still assist in hospitals but letting them automatically become doctors is not the answer to the shortage of health workers, many netizens pointed out.

— Joy Adalia, The Summit Express

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