Posts Tagged ‘Philippines’

The lure of what is out there has led many Filipino doctors to leave the country for greener pastures abroad.  The goal is always to seek a higher standard of living that this country is seemingly unable to provide.  Although some of these doctors have been successful in establishing their own medical practices abroad, some had to accept positions that are vastly incompatible with the skills level they had acquired with close to ten years’ of medical training in the Philippines.

After asking if they had ever considered going abroad, my folks replied that, of course, they actually had.  However, there’d been many reasons why they’d stayed, one of which had been to provide their kids with stable and secure roots.  Different factors had also affected the decision to serve government and country, one of which had been the lack of sufficient funds to set up a private practice.  Yes, it was a very blue collar background, despite the abstract boost in social status that an MD at the end of one’s name often conveniently bestows upon an individual.  So here we are, several years later, living with the frustrating fact that, in this country, financial compensation for government doctors, especially in the provincial areas, is adequate but not exactly highly motivating.

There is a world map on my bedroom wall right above my study table.  It is there to constantly remind me of what it is I might probably have to give up if I do what it was that my parents had done and more – settle down, have a family, put down some roots, and stabilize finances.  See, my version of the “greener pasture” does not involve a house in the most exclusive subdivision or a lucrative medical practice in the best private hospital in the country.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with the better things that life has to offer.  My family would love to see me settle down in a big house in one of those high-end villages with the guarded, gilded gates that only the rich could afford with a successful medical practice under belt.  I’m sure that is what a lot of medical students aspire for as well.

However, my itch to go abroad is not to settle down.  I don’t really need vast amounts of wealth and/or luxury to get through life.  I just want to see the world, not just to visit other places but to actually live in each country for some time.  Every night, I wonder why I’m studying to become a doctor when what I would like is to travel everywhere.  I should’ve been a pilot or a diplomat or maybe a writer… something that could’ve allowed me to wander wherever I wanted.  However, the desire to practice medicine “gets in the way” of all that.  Perhaps one argument is that a doctor is a doctor anywhere he goes.  However, besides the fact that settling down is the socially acceptable course of adulthood, the thing with being a doctor from a developing country is the irony of leaving the place that most needs your skills.  Is it martyrdom?  Heck, no.  If it were, then everything else would be so darn simple.  Still, one can never be faulted for the choices one makes because, after all, to each his own.

Maybe I will travel everywhere someday and even live in a different country for a few months, simply to scratch the itch to frolic in my own version of “the greener pasture” and to see what the world looks like beyond the visible horizon.  I do hope so.  I honestly hope so because, really, I only have so much nationalism in my blood.  I know that sounds awful but this is just so darn itchy.


I first met Edwin (not his real name) one Saturday in September 2011.  He was around 5 feet 4 inches tall but was all skin and bones that his slight mother could actually carry him with very little effort in her arms.  Bedridden, unable to talk, and with a nasogastric tube stuck into his nose, he did not present a very comfortable sight.  Edwin has SSPE, or subacute sclerosing pancephalitis, actually been living with it for the past two years.  He was then only 11 years old.  SSPE usually occurs at around the age of 9-11 in children who have had measles before the age of 2 or before they had been vaccinated against the disease.  It is a rare sequelae of untreated measles but it happened to Edwin.  His family lives in a single-room house in one of the most impoverished and least sanitary areas in urban Metro Manila – Payatas.

The medstudent organization of which I’ve been part of for the past three years is socially- and health-oriented.  As such, it is typical for the health coordinator to impart with us some of the community’s health-related troubles from time to time.  More often than not, the problem is usually public health in nature.  However, when the health coordinator quietly asked me to go with her that particular Saturday to meet a family with a special health problem, the first thought that popped into my mind was that I was going to meet a family with a bedridden elderly patient, most probably diabetic, hypertensive, or stroked out.

According to one doctor who wanted to volunteer his services by alleviating Edwin’s pain through acupuncture, Edwin was facing a <20% chance of survival.  Despite the helpful tone of his text message, the underlying question was, “Why are you wasting your time on that?” In all honesty, I do not know but, having met Edwin, having spoken to his mother who had been crying the whole time she was talking about the difficulties that came with Edwin’s condition, it is difficult not to “waste” some time on this.

Every time my orgmates and I would return to the community once or twice every month since then, visiting Edwin and his family became a routine.  He may not know any of us, not really.  I certainly was not a lot of help since I do not have money, connections, influence, or even the adequate knowledge to truly help.  But, for families struggling with a chronic disease, emotional support means a whole lot and can go a long way in lifting morale.

How did I get to know Edwin?  I never really did.  Maybe I never will.

Yes, I want you to cry at this point.  That is exactly my intention when I started writing this piece.

Most doctors tend to remember specific diseases by the signs and symptoms presented by their patients.  These patients eventually lose their faces and individualities in these doctors’ minds by the time these doctors’ have mastered those said diseases.  Of course, it is imperative for doctors to master diseases to be able to conquer them with effective treatment plans in the future.  However, perhaps we do a disservice to ourselves and to the faces that embodied those diseases by forgetting the patients who have taught us not just to be competent doctors but how to be human as well.  Those patients were not, are not, and will never be a waste of time.


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