The healthcare system in the Philippines is beset with challenges, not least of which is the lack of healthcare workers in the country.
According to the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), 75 percent of cities and municipalities in the country do not have the full complement of medical professionals they need to sufficiently provide health care to their constituents. This is partly due to the high number of healthcare professionals moving abroad for better career opportunities. Those who choose to stay in the country are more likely to work in areas where earnings are potentially high and near communities where they were trained, mostly in the urban areas.
As such, local government units and private health centers in the Philippines continue to have difficulty attracting and retaining medical professionals due to the low level of remuneration, poor working conditions, outdated healthcare technologies, and inadequate career advancements.
The urgent need for professional health workers was highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic when many of them fell ill after contracting the virus or just plain exhaustion.
And that need has not diminished as critical in the post-pandemic recovery of the economy is the confidence among the citizenry that Covid-19 is now firmly under control.
Among the indicators of confidence are: widespread testing for official counts to accurately represent actual conditions, the number of serious cases requiring hospitalization effectively handled by the health system, and public-health measures delivered effectively and sufficiently to prevent increases in transmission.
Coming up with these indicators will depend a great deal on having enough health workers and this is where The Primary Structures Educational Foundation Inc. (PSEFI), the corporate foundation of the Primary Group of Builders, a Cebu-based conglomerate with businesses in the fields of construction, real estate, logistics, health and lifestyle and human capital developments, comes in.
PSEFI, through the technical vocational institute it manages, the School of Knowledge for Industrial Labor, Leadership and Service (SKILLS), embarked on a mission to help increase the number of medical front liners in a fast and cost-efficient way through education.
PSEFI SKILLS did this by reviewing the short-term courses offered by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to determine the gaps that it could possibly fill so that there will be more Filipinos trained in courses aligned with and complement the medical profession.
While there are existing medically-aligned certifications, PSEFI SKILLS sought to develop specialized courses that would unload or decrease the day-to-day operational burdens of medical practitioners, especially nurses.
By doing so, nurses and the other medical staff could focus their energy and resources more on actual patient care, rather than clerical or administrative work that could be handled by other support staff.
Thus, by the third quarter of 2020, PSEFI SKILLS piloted the Medical Auxiliary Specialized Services (MASS) Program, a six-month medical course or training designed to boost the ranks of medical front liners without requiring large financial investment and long periods of study.
PSEFI SKILLS developed MASS with two medical facilities, namely The Hospital at Maayo (THAM, formerly Maayo Medical Clinic) and San Lucas Medical Center (SLMC).
The second half of 2020 was spent drafting the course curriculum, establishing the training facilities, and piloting the first batch of scholars/trainees. By 2021 until 2022, the curriculum was further enhanced and submitted to TESDA, the training facilities were completed, three more batches were trained and deployed to medical facilities, and training of the fifth batch began.
PSEFI SKILLS’ trailblazing implementation of MASS involved the following components: (a) curriculum development and industry consultation, (b) community mobilization and provision of scholarship support, (c) training facility establishment, (d) skills training implementation and employment, and (e) program registration.
Curriculum Development. MASS is an industry-driven skills education and training program. PSEFI SKILLS relied significantly on the guidance of medical industry practitioners in developing the curriculum. The curriculum starts with a four-month classroom lecture, and then two months of on-the-job training.
The MASS curriculum consists of competencies needed to adequately assist medical and trauma patients in the emergency department, assist or perform curative, rehabilitative, and palliative care procedures, facilitate positioning and mobilization of patients in critical conditions and procedures, and assist in the stabilization of patients with acute medical and traumatic conditions.
Community Mobilization and Scholarship Support. MASS is inclusive and accommodates Filipinos from various economic and educational backgrounds. The six-month scholarship covers costs for tuition, personal protective equipment, and daily allowances.
Training Facility Establishment. PSEFI funded the establishment of a training facility located at San Lucas Medical Center (SLMC) in Minglanilla, Cebu. The facility has an admin and trainer’s room, a learning resource center, two lecture rooms, and a laboratory room, which simulates an actual hospital room.
Skills Training, Implementation, and Employment. Licensed nurses with adequate industry experience act as facilitators for the program. There are 82 completers and 81 (99%) have been transitioned to employment and further education. 67 (82%) were hired by SLMC and THAM, 12 (15%) are now working in other companies, and two (2) pursued further studies. The current batch has 20 trainees.
Program Registration. MASS has been duly recognized by TESDA as a No Training Regulation (NTR) Program. NTR refers to the programs registered under TESDA’s Unified TVET Program Registration and Accreditation System not covered by any Training Regulations.
Investments. The incubation and initial runs of MASS were fully financed by PSEFI SKILLS and its partner hospitals.
Aside from the scholarships, the proponents also funded the establishment of the training center with tools, materials, and equipment. To make MASS sustainable benefiting the health industry, PSEFI SKILLS seeks public and private sector support for future batches.
Over the 15 months since it was rolled out, the MASS program has achieved the following:
Addressed the skills shortage of medical facilities. The program has so far deployed 67 workers to SLMC and THAM, which would not have been achieved using traditional nursing education methods.
Provided skills training and employment opportunities. MASS makes a career in the medical industry more achievable for many Filipinos as it is more affordable and can be completed earlier. With MASS now recognized as an NTR, the program is more viable for scholarships by the public and private sectors.
Contributed to the technical skills portfolio of TESDA. With its close working relationship with the industry, PSEFI SKILLS endeavors to help grow the pool of TESDA offerings. At present, PSEFI SKILLS is communicating with TESDA for MASS to be recognized as a promulgated program.
MASS graduates do not replace medical professionals as they do not perform critical medical tasks. However, they support them by performing essential tasks in hospitals and medical clinics that help ensure that Filipinos needing health care will get the services that they need and deserve.
Written by: Tina Arceo-Dumlao