By David Dizon
MANILA, Philippines - Health Secretary Enrique Ona on Thursday said he wants the Department of Health to craft a residency program for nurses in an effort to stop the practice of "forced volunteerism" where nurses must pay a fee in order to receive training and get experience in public and private hospitals.
Speaking to radio dzMM, Ona said he had already issued a memorandum ordering government-owned hospitals to stop accepting fees for so-called training programs for nurses.
In its place, he said he wants the DOH "by itself or in conjunction with the Board of Nursing to come up with a residency training program [for nurses]."
Under the proposal, the government-funded residency program will give nurses 6-18 months of training in a public or privately-owned hospital. He said this includes all regional medical centers of the health department.
"For example, if you want operating room (OR) exposure, you will get 6 months of lectures or an expansion of what they’ve learned in school and then practical experience in the OR. And not just ordinary ORS but the OR of the Heart Center or the [Philippine] Orthopedic Center," Ona said.
More importantly, he said, those who join the residency program "must not pay."
"They will be paid, maybe not a salary, but an allowance," he said.
A Senate inquiry earlier investigated the practice of "volunteerism-for-a-fee" where nursing graduates pay hospitals to be allowed to volunteer in order to rack up experience.
Dr. Teresita Barcelo, Philippine Nursing Association president, earlier said some hospitals have taken to calling the practice “training programs.” She said no one wants to file a formal complaint or testify against unscrupulous hospitals or health care facilities since the volunteer nurse also benefits by way of getting an employment certificate.
ANG NARS President Leah Primitiva G. Samaco-Paquiz said volunteer nurses sometimes shell out as much as P10,000 to work for a hospital while doing the same work as the regular nurses.
"It is sad because there is no employer-employee relationshop, no benefits, no security of tenure. If something happens to the nurse, there is no obligation. They do not become experts. Even the certificate is not honored abroad because it is just a certificate of volunteerism and training, not employment," she said.
Some volunteer nurses noted that they agree to pay the fees because of the promise that they will be the first to be hired in case a vacancy opens up.
However, one volunteer nurse noted that many hospitals are woefully understaffed, with 2 nurses tending to as many as 50 patients.
The health secretary said the Department of Budget and Management is already allocating funds for the hiring of 12,500 health professionals including doctors, midwives and nurses.
He said the proposed residency program will remove "run-of-the-mill, unregistered training programs and of course, forced volunteerism."
Secretary Ona said he also plans to form a task force to investigate alleged training programs that exploit volunteer nurses.
He said the proposed task force will include the DOH, the Department of Labor and Employment and even the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The health secretary also denied that government-owned hospitals will only hire nurses who get the backing of their local congressman.
"You don’t require the backing of your local congressman. Ang sinasabi ko, dapat bigyan ng priority ay yung mga nagvolunteer," he said.