Nowhere to go but the baryo

| Written by Stephanie Cabigao

So what’s a tall 26-year-old bachelor doing in the scenic but remote municipality of San Isidro, Bohol, a town of rice fields, banana and coconut groves, 32 kilometers away from Tagbilaran City?

Adrian Sampang is no stranger to the town’s 9,800 people, being the only doctor-to-the-barrio (DTTB) assigned in the community for the past eight months.

Shortly after his graduation, the young Kapampangan passed the medical board examination in September 2016, then went straight to the DTTB program of the Department of Health, along with 81 doctors from various medical schools who signed a two-year contract in November 2016.

From the baryo

A probinsyano himself, Adrian had lived a simple life growing up in Lubao, Pampanga. “I thought I had my life planned out for me—go to a local college on a local scholarship, then spend the rest of my life working in an office. I’m lucky that I got these awards and scholarships from elementary all the way to high school, but I never planned my future,” he says.

However, his exposure to the health situation in the Philippines is rooted in his childhood. “I often got sick because I had asthma. I saw the bad situation in the district hospital – crowded, inefficient, long lines, dilapidated facilities. I didn’t want to be a doctor after that. It was my first actual experience seeking medical attention,” he says.

Dr. Sampang with his barangay health workers during their visit to the last of 3 GIDA Barangays in Barangay Candungao. (Photo from Dr. Adrian Sampang)

A UP education

Back in 2006, his mom filled up his UPCAT form. Since Nursing was the trendy program then, his mom made it his first choice, and Behavioral Science his second. He called it luck passing the latter course.

“I might have not gone to med school if I had passed Nursing,” he recalls. He became an active member of seven organizations, including the Student Council for ASAP-Katipunan. His program, which delved into the social sciences especially Anthropology, took him closer to the realities of Philippine society.

“As any Iskolar ng Bayan knows, a UP education is very different. They make sure that you at least get exposed to these social issues, then it is up to you to explore them more,” he adds. “We went to farmers and urban poor communities. Actually, my internship was with the Philippine Human Rights Information Center, a non-government organization. We did research on human rights abuses such as militarization in the countryside and on mining. We joined protest rallies. Once, we stayed with a community of sugarcane farmers in Batangas for a week to discuss their health situation,” he says.

Secretly, he applied for a scholarship in med school. He passed and finished his studies, the first UP graduate in his family to do so. He was part of the first batch affected by the University’s calendar shift, which put interns at the Philippine General Hospital preparing for the medical board examinations on a tight schedule.

“If you’ve been through the UP-PGH internship, you get the most interesting, the rarest, and most hopeless cases sometimes. That’s where you see the gaps in the health system—like late referrals, where basically they really just don’t have the money to get themselves treated. And if ever they finally do have the money, perhaps with the help of some politician or by selling their properties, even a carabao, it is too late, and there’s only palliative care left to do. But don’t get me wrong, there’s a system and funding coursed through DOH for the indigent. However, with expensive medical treatment, this budget gets easily spent,” he recounts.

To the baryo

“My perspective, especially coming from my social sciences background, has taught me that there’s a need to give back. In a way, I’m indebted to the Filipino people,” Dr. Sampang declares.

He explains that DTTB is basically focused on primary and community care. Different from hospital care, it uses a preventive rather than curative approach. It means that before diseases even set in, the doctor has to make sure that the community has a healthy population. “Actually, if there’s one thing that needs to be addressed, it’s primary care. We have no proper health-seeking behavior primarily because of poverty, and that’s one of the things I’m trying to correct.”

He functions not only as a health doctor, but also as an administrator, being the Medical Health Officer of Barangay San Isidro, with the power to select the necessary programs and their implementation. “Of course, I choose the ones that are high-impact and the most practical to do, the most relevant for the community. You are given the power to decide where the budget would go. So, you can configure what you want to do for the community. Health education is another intervention necessary in a community setting,” he emphasizes.

Dr. Adrian Sampang summing up a week of completed visits to all 12 barangays in San Isidro, Bohol. (Instagram photo from Dr. Adrian Sampang)

Today, the young doctor is focused on the ongoing construction of a rural health unit (RHU) in his municipality, which is one of his legacy projects. There has been a lack of the RHU since the Bohol earthquake in 2013. “I will leave them a functioning RHU especially equipped with a birthing station for delivery,” he says.

His work is also committed to permanently place efficient barangay health stations (BHS) and emergency response systems in key areas of the municipality.

Dr. Sampang is currently completing his Master’s class in public health systems development. He wishes that whatever he has learned from this will guide his community work, with special focus on teenage pregnancy. He is also hopeful that more young Filipino doctors will take this road to the baryo as there are still many far-flung communities that have not had doctors for years.

“I have always kept that mission-vision of UP Manila, to serve quality health care directed to the underserved community, as my personal mission. My journey that is a story I can share with my own family. I want to leave a mark so that, even without me, San Isidro will have an efficient and sustainable health system. People should be empowered and educated, most especially about their health,” he says.

He has yet to figure out his future. But right now, Dr. Sampang is just focused on his community. “Money really isn’t the reward. It’s the thank yous that I get from patients. It is the feeling of accomplishment that I was able to help,” he says.

His advice to others, he admits, is a cliché, but a good one. “Follow your heart to whatever makes it happy. I’m happy with the path I’ve chosen. You’ll get that gut feel that it’s the right thing to do. It took me several leaps of faith that led me to where I am today. I didn’t plan anything. I just went for it and it felt right. Life isn’t really that easy, but just make sure that you make the best of what’s given to you, and have fun along the way.”