Doctor to the Barrios

I currently work for a company under a foundation. And the area we are working on is public health. In my research, I came across this article written by a doctor who’s decided to dedicate the first few years after medical school to the barrios.This moved me to tears. I don’t know if I’d be able to do the same thing as her, but I’m hoping, in my own little way, I can be a catalyst to change, or to be able to help those who need it the most.

Why not?By Che Zablan
First Posted 02:02am (Mla time) 01/13/2007
I AM a doctor to the barrio. For most people, I could not have made a better choice, but for a very few, I could not have made a worse or crazier one. In fact, the moment I utter those words, I see all sorts of reactions.My family and friends are primarily concerned over my safety. After all, I could be assigned anywhere in the Philippines.
My superiors and colleagues, on the other hand, are afraid that I might stagnate professionally. The normal course for a newly licensed physician is to specialize. I won’t be able to do that in the rural areas.
Most people who first hear about my decision give me that you-must-be-crazy look and demand to know why. I have learned to just smile and vaguely explain that I really have nothing better to do or that I haven’t decided which medical field to specialize in. Sometimes, I am tempted to lie and say I am going abroad. This answer, I am sure, I would not have to explain myself.
It never fails to amaze me that people find it unusual that a young doctor would decide to work in the barrios and normal for him to work abroad. I thought I’d never find the perfect answers to all their questions until I was sent to a highland municipality in the northern province of Ilocos Sur.
My father felt reassured when I told him I have never felt safer in my entire life. I don’t speak Ilocano. I don’t know a single soul in the place. But when I walk on the street, everybody greets me. My dining table never runs out of fruits and vegetables given by the people. They invite me to dine in their homes although I am a total stranger.
This is contrary to what I experience every day in Manila. There, everybody speaks Filipino, but I feel like I could be mugged anytime. I could go around the whole metropolis without a single soul greeting me, much less inviting me to dine with their families. I am actually starting to feel that my family and friends in the city are the ones who need to take care.
It was tough to put on hold my dream of becoming an OB-gyn. However, I can still train to be one in a couple of years. That can wait, but the patients I serve might not make it if they don’t see a doctor right now. And while I may have put on hold my professional growth, I am definitely working on my personal growth.
I finally understood what being alone means on my first night and being independent on my first week here. I’ve realized what determination means when I see children walking five kilometers to get to school. I see what hard work means every time I see a farmer working under the sun in the middle of the day. Most importantly, I am learning what a doctor should do: to make a difference in people’s lives.
There are nights when I feel like paying a thousand bucks just to have a cup of caramel macchiato or pay slight less than that for a choco nutty sprinkle donut. However, these cravings are gone as soon as I get freshly brewed kapeng barako and kalamay—of course, for free.
On days when I can’t find the perfect medicine or order the ideal laboratory procedure, I am sorely tempted to take a bus back to Manila. But these are soon forgotten when I cross hanging bridges and rivers or walk along rice terraces just to see my patients.
When I get the you-must-be-crazy look, I tell people about the hanging bridges and rice terraces, but most of all about the barrio’s most important treasure: its people. They make my job so much easier. When they say thank you, they mean it. When they ask me how I am, they care enough to wait for my response. These are the people who teach me every day that simple living is so much better.
But when I am sick of answering why I chose to be a doctor to the barrio, I just say, “Why in the world not?”
Che Zablan, 28, is employed under the Department of Health’s Doctors to the Barrios Program.


About jencc

a constant work-in-progress View all posts by jencc

19 responses to “Doctor to the Barrios

  • thea

    praise God for people like her.

  • ilena

    This reminds me of my grandfather. He dedicated his life to patients who didn’t have enough money to go to hospitals. He didn’t retire, he cured people until he died. He cured thousands and thousands of people, particularly tuberculosis patients. Tuberculosis is not an attractive option for doctors, given that most of the patients were poor. But he, he dedicated his life for them. You know it doesn’t really matter what you know, it’s how you apply it that matters.

  • jencc

    Ilena, that is amazing! Thank goodness for doctors like your grandfather!

  • cathy

    I hope there is a lot of people like her.

  • Dr. Manolo Suarez

    It is indeed very “touching” to have dedicated doctors serving the poor and the needy. Their experiences remind me of my challenging life working as field medical officer deployed in combat areas of the country serving not only the troops and their families but also the underpriviledged people who never had experienced to receive any government service in “enemy influenced areas”.

    My life was changed when my eldest daughter had nasopharyngeal sarcoma which needed much financial reserves to afford treatment of her rare disease. I was forced to abandon my military service honorably including my residency in Neurosurgery in V. Luna Gen. Hospital, AFPMC, just to provide the immediate needs of my daughter and my growing family. By heaven’s grace, I was able to find a “well paid” job abroad as a doctor and was able to save my daughter’s life. Thanks for generous services of Dr. Alonzo(Medical City) and Dra. Abesames(Phil. Children Medical Center). But I shall never forget my service in the countryside which I miss very much!


    Dr. Manolo Suarez
    Medical Officer, JRM Offshore Operations for
    RASGAS/EXXON/MOBIL Qatar Project

  • Che Zablan

    Hi Jen! Thanks for the kind words 🙂 I am really glad we inspire quite a number of people. 🙂

    Che Zablan
    Doctor to the Barrios
    Batch 21

  • Bong Ramiscal

    I am also a doctor. I am in a crossroad right now, after I finished my RN course..yup, I have plans of going fact..i’m all set to fly out anytime. In my heart however lingers the longing of a longtime dream (I am 41 y/o now) to serve rural Philippines. Its so refreshing to know that there are doctors like you “enjoying” serving and living with our people, despite such conditions. I am very much considering working as a Doctor to the Barrios..can you help me? email address: 09154115255..thank you and God Bless

  • MerryCherry

    Jen, sent you email already. Sorry, late reply. 🙂

  • rica

    yeah, why not? i’m thinking of the same thing- practicing in the barrio. it shouldn’t be all about the money and personal gain. 🙂 this is really an inspiring story and it reassured me of the nobility of staying here and serving the filipino people. thanks for sharing.

  • edith

    hi. have been thru that path also. and I was crying even before I finished reading your article. I missed the Philippines and my work as OB-GYN. Yap, you read it right. OB-GYN. Anyway, to make the long story short, I have to be in USA to be with my family. I underwent OB-GYN training to help the same people yoy are servingh right now. But I have to leave the country to be with my family right after the training. I envy you – you still have them in your life. The first week I was in the barrio, I searched thru the whole town looking for Pringles- hehehe. I was shocked. No Pringles. Chips Ahoy? None. At first, I cannot believe it. But as you say , people in the barrios are very nice , and very hospitable. If only I can be at 2 places at the same time- with my family and with my barrio patients. Ok, got to go now. Hope you can read this. God bless you, Doctor Zablan.

  • bien

    mabuhay ang mga doctors to the barrios

  • Jude

    I am proud of all the doctors working in the barrios for our underserved countrymen. I am a gp and considering to work as one of the Doctors to the Barrios. Could anyone give me informations on how and when to apply? I already searched websites such as and DOH but can’t have enough information with this matter. Thanks in advance. God bless and more power to our colleagues out there.
    My email:

  • Darwin

    Thank you for a great article. Can you also send me the details on how to apply for DTTB program? Thank you and God bless!

  • Darwin

    Thank you for a great article. Can you also send me the details on how to apply for DTTB program? Thank you and God bless!

    My email add:

  • Riza Cruz

    Hi Dr. Che,

    Im’m currently helping an NGO ( that promotes Filipino pride. In addition, Im planning to come up with an Infomercial that will showcase Filipinos that make significant social contributions to our country like the Doctors to the Barrios.

    Hope you could help me with this, I need to document the life of Doctor to the Barrios to include it in the Infomercial. Would also appreciate if you can lend me footages / pictures if you have.


    Riza Cruz

  • Eejay

    Thanks for the inspiring post about being a doctor to the barrio. I have been considering it. Ihave looked up the DOH website but it does not tell you how and where to send your application. Can I know the process? Thanks a lot!! Keep inspiring people. : )

    My email add:

  • Monica

    Hey Jen this is exactly how I feel about moving to Palawan. Many have asked my WHY and I always have the same response – WHY NOT?:)

  • cathy

    i am also a fresh board passer, but i have come to believe that the medical life is more of a marathon than a sprint. Congratulations on your convictions. This is exactly the reason why doctors should be doctors!

  • rachelleramilo

    Thank you for sharing this post. This gives me a new perspective about the DTTB program. 🙂

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