Are Filipinos still happy to be a Filipino?
Longing for a western standard of living
Actually, Arlene Guce could be happy. The pediatrician's income is around 1000 euros per month, well above that of an average Filipino. She runs two practices. Both are in renowned private clinics. Half of their patients are privately insured - so Guce doesn't have to wait weeks for treatment costs to be reimbursed.
But Arlene Guce is not satisfied. Because the money that the 42-year-old earns every month is not enough to live on western standards, she says sadly. Guce still lives with her parents; she cannot afford a house of her own in one of the upscale residential areas of Manila; nor a car or vacation trips. In the USA - where many of their friends went straight after their studies, things are different. A doctor is paid appropriately after many years of training, further education and training. In the Philippines, the majority of medical professionals start working for around 200 euros a month, which is not surprising in a country where 30 percent of the population lives on less than 1.50 euros a day.
Many years of training for a low salary
A young doctor from Germany helps out in a hospital ward
The pediatrician has invested a total of 13 years in her training and further education to become a doctor. She even passed the medical exam of the US Medical Board after completing her studies. After all, says Guce, she already knew then that at some point she would leave her country for financial reasons. However, since Guce's US exam expired a few years ago and she did not want to repeat the complex exam, the Filipina made a decision: she decided to retrain to become a nurse. The two-year training cost another 4,000 euros. But Guce knows that as a nurse in the US, she gets four times her current salary. "Then I'll finally deserve what I deserve," she says with a touch of defiance in her voice.
Massive brain drain
Arlene Guce is not an isolated incident. According to Dr. Anthony Calibo, a member of the Ministry of Health, brought around 5,000 doctors the country to start a new life as nurses in the west. The island nation is already suffering from a massive shortage of doctors. There are only 30,000 medical professionals available for the approximately 90 million islanders. Most of them work in and around Manila, as there is more money to be made there than in the countryside. In the country, Dr. Gene Nisperos, chairman of the medical organization HEAD (Health Alliance for Democracy), had to close many state hospitals due to the emigration. Many Filipinos cannot afford to travel to bigger cities with better equipped hospitals. Even more: Since the child rate in the Philippines is among the highest in Asia, even more doctors will be needed in the future.
Glimmer of hope medical tourism
The Makati Medical Center in Manila for wealthy private patients
A few years ago, when the country discovered the business of medical tourists from distant countries, the government and the private sector also thought of doctors. If there is actually money to be made in plastic surgery and wellness vacations for Westerners, then this money should be invested in improving health care for its own population. And, adds Calibo, doctors should get a piece of the pie by increasing their salaries. The Ministry of Health made a similar promise to Arlene Guce. It encouraged doctors willing to emigrate to stay in the country at an information event. It said that new sources of income would soon open up. Guce didn't believe it in the first place. "After all, I'm a pediatrician and not an aesthetic plastic surgeon."
She wants to get her license to be a nurse in the US by June. She can purchase the necessary exam online - for another 150 euros. Then, finally, the doctor can travel to the USA as a tourist. She would like to spend the first few weeks with relatives and apply from there. In a few months, Filipina could finally be where it always wanted to be.
Or? Arlene Guce is still looking serious, the idea of this new life doesn't seem to make her happier. After a long while, she confesses that it is her parents who give her a headache. Both are no longer the youngest. Guce's only brother has already emigrated to the UK. Because he too had a dream: that of more money in a western country.
Author: Martina Merten
Editing: Thomas Latschan / Marco Müller
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