Do Filipino Doctors Suck?

Saturday, May 05, 2012 Stef dela Cruz 13 Comments

Aside from general practitioners, many other Filipino doctors take a lot of bashing. For instance, I remember hearing medical residents and consultants joking about how their field is superior to other “minor” specializations. Yes; in the medical community, even doctors themselves criticize each other’s fields. But as is the case in movies, “there are no small roles, only small actors.”

Yes, some Filipino doctors are not as good as others, but this is the case in pretty much any other field. Should we then criticize, say, Filipino teachers, Filipino mothers, and Filipino bloggers in general?

Doctors in the Philippines are not much worse than doctors anywhere else. Ask your relatives living abroad and they all have nightmarish stories about foreign doctors. For instance, my aunt, who lives in another country, had to migrate back here just to get her eyes checked! And no, she wasn’t lost to follow up; she kept coming back to a doctor in a prestigious hospital for two months and she was never even given a basic physical exam. (By the way, she got a diagnosis in the Philippines in under a week.)

Reasons Why Filipino Doctors Are Bashed And Criticized

In my previous post, I mentioned a few reasons as to why Filipino doctors are belittled by many. Here, I continue the list.

  • Many Filipino doctors are paid less than a janitor’s wages. Some of my friends go moonlighting, a common way for fresh medical graduates to earn money. I remember reading job listings for moonlighters at a rate of PhP1500 for a 24-hour shift. “There’s free food and lodging,” the ads said, as if that sweetened the deal. Underpaying young doctors is tantamount to taking advantage of them, a practice that undervalues doctors in the eyes of other health professionals.
  • Many patients are lost to follow up because Filipino doctors don’t explain procedures carefully. I have heard many of my friends complain about how a doctor asked for a battery of tests “to no avail”. My friends would then ask for a second opinion. Of course, the second doctor would have a better shot at getting the diagnosis right; after all, the first doctor requested for majority of the necessary tests! If doctors explained their diagnostic and treatment plans carefully, this kind of misunderstanding would be avoided.

Let’s all stop bashing Filipino doctors; besides, have you actually sought consult with doctors from other countries? Yes, some Filipino MDs may not be as good as others, but isn’t this the case with teachers, bloggers, and everyone else?

Joining the Medical Book Giveaway?
Here’s your
next clue!

Let’s not make generalizations about Filipino doctors, Filipino nurses, or any other group of professionals. It’s like taking racism to an uglier level. Now, it’s your turn to share. Have you had an unpleasant experience with a Filipino doctor? Be honest: did you generalize against most Filipino doctors based on your experience? Do you also look down on general practitioners? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!


  1. Hi, Doc Stef. You're right in saying that there are good doctors and there are bad doctors, just like there are good and bad practitioners in any field. But as patients, we should try to educate ourselves as much as possible regarding our condition. Don't be afraid to ask the doctor for any questions, and don't be afraid to voice out our fears. If in doubt, ask for a second opinion.
    I never had any problem with Filipino doctors. Maybe because my doctors are older, and are considered experts in their field. But I've had not so good experiences with hospital staff. Some tend to chitchat too much, even talking about a patient who's within earshot.

  2. I love how you said it! Yes, we should always try our best to educate ourselves. And it's a good thing you have great doctors.

    And I share your plight regarding gossipy hospital staff. Someone I know once had an MRI after losing consciousness. They saw a tumor at the base of her skull. The staff kept saying stuff within earshot, like, "Wow, that was such a huge tumor! How on earth are they going to get it out?" True story.

    I think all employees (restaurant wait staff, service providers, and yes, even health professionals) should be trained in customer service. Just wishful thinking.

  3. I am a nurse, and I really had an experience with this doctors.

    First, there was an instance where we and the doctor debated about something. It's about blood transfusion. Well, the doctor is not new, and basing it on experience, he might've given a better instruction, for he is in the medical field for so many years now. The problem is, he wants blood to be transfused with D5W, not PNSS, which is kind of wrong, right? Based on what I know as a nurse.

    Second, there is this doctor who does not really want to interact with patients. It's like some patients do become discharged without seeing their attending physician. How good could that be? Maybe just 30 seconds with the patient, asking him how he is, and just doing some auscultation (patients like that, right?), I think the patients will not feel being neglected on some degree.

    I am planning to become a physician, and I'm planning to abolish these bad things. And I'll have a good penmanship too, to avoid medication errors. :)

  4. Hello there! I also happen to be a nurse - I took up nursing before medicine - and it does give us a different perspective on patients. It is very good that you have made these observations and you plan not to make these mistakes when you become a doctor!

    As for the D5W + blood transfusion, I can't explain why he decided on that. The blood cells will lyse if solutions to be used aren't isotonic. But it is good that you interacted with him and asked him regarding his instructions - as nurses, we are patients' advocates.

    Keep it up! I hope you give doctors a good name when you finally get to be one.

  5. Doctors who have always been in remedial exams in medicine proper are a nightmare physicians.

  6. Sorry but, I have to disagree. My wife is in the Philippines and suffering from severe lower abdominal pain. The first doctor diagnosed a UTI without even examining her. The second doctor thought it was a cyst and ordered an ultrasound (which turned out to be clear). The third doctor thought it might be an intestinal issue and ordered an x-ray (which turned out to be clear). Three doctors, three diagnoses - and not one of them prescribed anything for the excruciating pain she was in!!!

  7. If I see ten dirty Filipinos, is it okay for me to say Filipinos are filthy people? Such a generalization would have been racial prejudice. And the same logic applies to your story. :)

    I hope your wife got the help she needed. She eventually got diagnosed and treated right, yes? Was it by a Filipino doctor? Just wondering. :)

  8. Hi Stef, I think we need as many people doing sciences as we can get and that not all are great but at least they are in a profession that can help someone. There are altogether too many people in finance, banking and law today all with their eyes fixed firmly on making money and the world has enough of that type already. It sounds as though doctors are undervalued to some degree in the PI and that needs addressing considering what they do. On the subject of money if a family in the Philippines is poor how do they go attending a doctor? Is there a free service for the poor at all? What is the cost to a local to attend a doctor in say Cebu? Thank you - John.

  9. "I think we need as many people doing sciences as we can get and that not all are great but at least they are in a profession that can help someone. There are altogether too many people in finance, banking and law today all with their eyes fixed firmly on making money and the world has enough of that type already. " -- Nicely put, John.

    And you're right: doctors, especially general practitioners, are very much undervalued in the Philippines, especially in urban areas. It just might take 100 more years, if at all, before people start putting general MDs in a better light.

    To answer your question, financially challenged families can avail of any hospital's charity division. Consultation is much cheaper, but the conditions are nearly unbearable, what with patients lining up as early as 4 a.m. just to register. Elderly people just might not stomach the long wait.

    Consultation fees depend on the services. Private MDs charge about PhP500 for every consult. A hospital's charity division can charge a mere PhP40. Of course, private MDs' clinics don't have the same unbelievable queues as a charity division's outpatient department.

    Any paradigm shift needs core leaders, people who are willing to speak out about the problem. Unfortunately, the stigma of general practice is widely avoided. I have never, in my many years in medical school, ever heard of a doctor encouraging med students to be proud of becoming general practitioners. It's like being a general practitioner is akin to being stupid. And THAT unspoken assumption is what's supposed to be stupid, yes?

    Sadly, that's just the tip of the iceberg, John. Good luck to us Filipino doctors. Thanks for dropping by. :)

  10. Hello,

    With all due respect, I think, however, that since doctors take on a very important role, it is only correct to criticize them if they can't deliver. Isn't that how service should be? Doctors I usually interact with happen to be lazy, tardy and just keep telling me I'm okay when I have the worst of symptoms. I then get ER visits and they still can't figure out what's wrong. Then bam. One gets cancer and that's when they tell you you're dying. Are we really supposed to be OKAY with this? I don't think so. I'd rather have less doctors who know what they're doing than a gazillion who are just out there to make money. Everyone works and gives service as due. It's nothing personal. They better make sure they own up to their mistakes.

    IMO, doctors here need to be critical thinkers. You don't just stand there and access the arsenal of knowledge you have after getting patient inputs. You 'analyze' what you've taken in and what you've observed. You are not Wikipedia. You are not Google. Tell me something helpful, tell me something I don't know. If you've had low pay in the past, guess what, everybody goes through that, too, and when people mess up, they get a bashing.

  11. Kandissa, you're correct, we should take the effort to change what is wrong.

    You are also correct when you say we should criticize doctors when they can't deliver. But that wasn't the issue here - the issue is that ALL general practitioners are judged based on the performance of just a few.

    I can relate to what you are saying. Even though I'm a doctor, I am also frequently a patient. But what my article aims for is not for the critique to stop. It is for critique to be given only when one deserves it, but not when one shares a title that holds unnecessary stigma.

    Thank you for dropping by! I hope you come back in the future.


  12. Maam, sorry I'm becoming desperate now. I've read your blog about Filipino doctors being belittled. As for me, its really case-to-case basis and in my case, I really am losing hope about most Filipino doctors right now. First, almost 4 years ago, my own uncle who is a doctor (he's working in RHU) misdiagnosed my lymphatic TB (there's a coin-sized lump on the right side of my neck back then). Well, not really misdiagnosis but there's no diagnosis at all! He didn't say to us at all what he's treating! He even said it himself to me and my mama. He just said "Okay, let's try this one (the name of the antibio)" And because we trusted him, we obeyed him still when he asked me to take antibiotics for 7 days. We came back to him after that when the lump was still there, thus he randomly chose another antibiotics from his mims, and said that I should take the new one for another 7 days. And then when still it didn't work, he gave me cipro for another 7 days then after that he gave me levoflox. An hour after i took my first dose of levo, my eyes turned bloodshot and I started ti react violently whenever I see any kind of light (even sunlight, as if I'm a vampire). Mama took me to the hospital and two doctors immediately helped us out after I told them the whole story. They sent me to the lab to check my kidneys and liver (because they said that maybe its over dosage and allergic reaction). Fortunately, my organs were not damaged but they warned me about my immune system. The antibiotics (which did not treat anything in the first place), might have impaired my immune system already. The next day, I was referred to an ophthalmologist who was also working at St. Luke's. After telling him the story, he said that I was lucky I'm still alive. We wanna sue my uncle but we're a poor family so we have no choice but to let it pass. But now, I think I'm suffering the long-term effect of what happened. I keep on getting UTIs and it's really driving me crazy. The doctors that I've been going to keep on saying that it's dehydration, it's this and that but you know I research the net a lot. I've been doing all the precautions, all strategies, all sorts of prevention but still. Everytime I seek for help these doctors would only give me antibiotics. Twice they did ultrasound and when they saw that its clear, they give me antibiotics again! I said its recurring and i read from an American doctor-blogger that if a uti is recurring, there might be an underlying cause that even an ultrasound test can't detect, but these Filipino doctors keep on giving me freaking antiobiotics! Its like I'm taking antibiotics all my life! I feel like they're slowly killing me. Please I really hope that you can help me out and enlighten me about this. I'm really losing hope about our doctors. :-(

    1. Hi, Grae,

      That is a sad story you just shared! Too bad you've had such a bad experience with many doctors.

      Have you heard of the mayonnaise jar effect? Imagine asking someone to open a mayonnaise jar for you. He can't do it, so you give it to another person. He can't do it either, so you give it to someone else, and so on. Finally, you find someone who can do it!

      It seems the last person was the strongest, yes? However, opening that jar of mayo was a cumulative effect, started by the first person who attempted to open it.

      Having said that, I always tell my friends two things if they're looking for a second opinion:
      1. Find a doctor you can trust. This calls upon your capacity to discern and do due research.
      2. Give your trusted doctor a chance to "open the mayonnaise jar" several times before you give up - the jar might just need a little jiggling. ;) Doctors don't always get it right the first time, which is why patients are "worked up". Diagnosis and treatment really needs work.

      Failure to do either step will not establish a good doctor-patient relationship. Jumping from one doctor to another may not be effective as it doesn't give each doctor enough time to work on your case.

      Having said that, you should know when to abandon ship - I hope the two steps above help you decide. :)