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  • Writer's pictureBy Bea Cabrera

Bill seeks to build a pool of homegrown health care professionals on Guam

Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes has introduced a bill that would take advantage of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP) to bolster the chances of students from Guam who want to pursue a career in the medical field.

“It is called the Birada Act, which means come back or round trip,” Muna Barnes said, explaining the concept of Bill 158-36 introduced Wednesday.

The bill is designed to develop Guam's own homegrown health care professionals.

“The PSEP will allow local students to get sponsorship from the government and private businesses here to pursue health and medical degrees such as optometry, dentistry, veterinary medicine and so much more,” Muna Barnes said at a press conference Thursday.

“Once they complete their education, they are required to come back home and practice here on Guam. This allows our children to access 130 participating programs in 10 professional healthcare fields at 60 universities, through the PSEP, a student can save anywhere from 32,000 to 130,000 by participating in PSEP, we all benefit by inspiring and compelling graduates to return home to practice and bolster the professional health care workforce of their communities,” Muna Barnes added.

Muna Barnes said the bill was inspired by Health Opportunities and Medical Exposure, a non-profit organization founded on Guam by local physician Dr. Amanda Del Rosario.

“Our team met with Dr. Del Rosario last year and learned about her journey in medical school and now, the great work she is doing where she mentors local students who want to pursue medicine,” the vice-speaker said.

She said over the past four years Del Rosario has mentored a total of 98 aspiring medical students from Guam who wanted to become doctors.

“If we are producing 98 medical students and we are having a hard time recruiting them to work in Guam, then I say we have a problem… we need them to come back,” she added.

The bill was co-authored by Sens. Mary Torres, Amanda Shelton, Joe San Agustin, Clynton Ridgell, Jose “Pedo” Terlaje, Frank Blas Jr., James Moylan and Tony Ada.

The Biråda Act designates the Guam Community College to serve as the administrative officer of PSEP for Guam residents. It further creates a scholarship office within GCC to facilitate the program. Participation in the WICHE PSEP would allow students to pursue careers in 10 healthcare fields served by WICHE partner programs while receiving substantial financial support for tuition costs over the duration of a health degree.

Muna Barnes said the Covid-19 pandemic has magnified the need for Guam to address shortfalls in the island’s healthcare system.

“The fact is we need to ensure we have enough healthcare professionals to care for our people in the near-term and in the future,” she said in a press release.

“The Biråda Act was introduced to help offset the enormous cost of professional healthcare education while incentivizing students to come back home and serve the community. This is a long-term solution to a long-standing problem.”

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