December 10, 2022

SALLAPADAN, Abra – For medical students, the common path to achieving their greatest dream is to finish their studies, pass the board examination, and work at a hospital.

For Dr. Karina Viola Bulong, being a “doctor to the barrio”, which means working in rural areas is a life-changing opportunity, despite being far from the ideal hospital work setting.

“I recommend it kasi hindi hospital-centric na way of life for doctors. I recommend it because it is a new experience, being in a rural and disadvantaged area. The contract package also includes a master’s program that will further improve the doctors’ work,” she said in a recent interview.

Bulong heads the Rural Health Unit (RHU) of the town, serving a population of 6,389, based on the 2020 survey of the population conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Her statement came after 3,826 out of 5,958 medical students became the country’s newest doctors after passing the Physician Licensure Examination, based on results released by the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) on Nov. 9.

“You need to be resourceful and determined to save a life which unlike in the hospital, you do not have the complete resources you need to do your job. You have to make do with what you have,” said Bulong, who is a physician for three years now and has spent two years and six months in the doctor to the barrio program.

She said a doctor to the barrio’s goal is to serve the underserved.

“I think that is the perspective that the doctor to the barrrio program is offering to the takers and to those who are in the program. It is easy to ask a patient why they had to wait for their condition to worsen before having a checkup, but you need to consider the logistics needed to go to the capital and it is not a choice to make health a priority because survival and providing food on the table is a primary concern.”

She added several factors contribute to the health of the community that is not taught in medical school but learned through exposure to the people, especially those in far-flung areas.

While the life of a doctor in the barrio is challenging, Bulong said it is a fulfilling mission, especially when she is able to save a patient’s life.

Bulong said at the height of the pandemic, lowering the cases of infection and resolving the surge was fulfilling for a barrio doctor considering that she was the only doctor in the town.

She said her contract in the program is ending in a few months and she will return with more skills and capacity to serve the less privileged barrio folks.

“I’m planning to go because I realized that although I acquired skills as a general practitioner and from medical school, it is not enough. I will have my residency to further improve my knowledge and better serve the public with more competence and higher quality of service for the people,” the doctor said. PNA