Thursday, February 09, 2006

Heart Center feels effects of brain drain

Ebalita /

With three nurses resigning every day to seek better employment opportunities abroad, a number of patients at the Philippine Heart Center (PHC) are being denied much-needed open-heart surgery, a hospital official said yesterday.

PHC director Dr. Ludgerio Torres noted the hospital is now lacking in nurses who could assist surgeons during operations because most of their nurses qualified to assist with the life-saving operation have already left for jobs in foreign hospitals.

"We are losing three nurses every day. We should average six open-heart (surgeries) simultaneously but we can only do four at the same time. So we have two rooms that are vacant. We are limited to four because we don’t have nurses," he said after a health forum yesterday.

The situation reflects an ongoing exodus of medical professionals and how this is directly affecting the country’s health care system. Since 2002, it is estimated that some 3,000 trained Filipino doctors have gone abroad ­ to work as nurses.

Torres claimed the PHC has around 6,000 nurses on its roster. But before they could be assigned to operating rooms, they have to undergo at least six to eight weeks of training on critical-care management.

"We have supplements, we can replace (those who leave), but we still have to train them… and training takes at least six to eight weeks. We can’t entrust our critical-care unit to those that have not been properly trained," he added.

In every open-heart operation, two specialty nurses are needed. While one is tasked to help in reading the electrocardiogram (ECG) and other results, the other one "moves around" to assist doctors.

New nurses are usually assigned to the ward but in their second year, they get promoted to critical unit.

Torres said the PHC continually provides training for replacement nurses under the condition that they serve at the hospital for two years when their training is done. But many go "absent without official leave" after completing the training.

Specialty nurses earn some P15,000 to P18,000 every month. But abroad, they can earn this amount in a week.

Torres also revealed that since January last year, the PHC has lost five doctor-specialists ­ three anesthesiologists, one cardiologist and one pediatric cardiologist ­ who are now working as nurses in foreign hospitals.

He, however, does not find this alarming because the PHC still has around 500 specialists: "It’s just a drop in the bucket."

According to Torres, the five doctors were 40 years old and above and had almost started their medical careers with the PHC. They were already earning around P500,000 a month when they left.
Most of them have been employed by hospitals in California.

"They have been with us for the last 20 years. They had their residency (training) at PHC. They are not consultants and they are earning. And yet they left," he added.

But money, Torres said, was not the primary reason for the doctors’ migration. "It’s more for their children.

It’s not really the financial. They just want their children to settle there."
He added the doctors have committed to return to the PHC in five to 10 years after their families have been properly settled abroad.

"When they left, they expressed that they would like to come back. This is their country. No one can stop them from coming back and practicing again. They have immigrant visas so after five years they can return. And there is dual citizenship here," he noted. By Sheila Crisostomo

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