Is the Filipino doctor in?

Column-Dr Anthony Leachon photoPreventive Health Education

By Anthony C. Leachon, MD

OCCASIONALLY in life, there are moments which cannot be completely expressed in words. Their meaning can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart. Today is such a moment for me.

I speak in behalf of my colleagues in the medical profession, that we are all moved by this moment of recognizing new physicians of our nation. Coming from a profession we have served long and loved dearly, it fills us all with an emotion we cannot fully express.

But today’s event is not only intended primarily to honor the new physicians but also to honor our parents who have supported us through the years; we have gone through six to seven graduations on our way to being a physician and yet we are partially or totally dependent on our dear parents; I am extremely blessed and grateful with having hardworking and caring parents during my toughest years as a newly minted physician.

This oath taking ceremony is not a humdrum of selfies and pictorials for Twitter and Facebook – but an icon, a symbolic moral code – the covenant, the code of conduct, and the calling of every Filipino physician. That is the true spirit of this event, the true expression of the Hippocratic Oath as doctors; it is the expression of what it means to be a Filipino physician in our times; an expression of its ethics… and its vocation.

That we should be the visible, so-called “distinguished face” of such a noble profession, gives us tremendous pride; and yet we are also humbled because we know that our profession today faces tremendous challenges and that as a community, we are yet to make a full impact in confronting the issues and addressing the health challenges that beset our profession in our country.

As a young child, I always dreamt of becoming a doctor. In my hometown in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro, there were very few doctors as I was growing up.

My father was a brilliant lawyer and my mother was a simple but hardworking businesswoman selling “palay” – both great role models to emulate, but somehow the lure of wanting to be a doctor was more compelling.

I was particularly fascinated by an artifact that was unmistakably always part of a physician’s clinic. This wasn’t the stethoscope nor the white gown – it was the signage: “THE DOCTOR IS IN.”

For those of you who remember how the signage looked like, it was in white plastic with a sliding part that covers half of the signage. It made its way to state whether the doctor is “IN or OUT,” As a child, I used to be thrilled sliding that IN & OUT signage.

As I was contemplating on what to say today, this imagery of my childhood was so vivid that my thoughts seemed to be framed in these four words: “The DOCTOR IS IN “ – words that reverently dictate what I ought to be as a doctor, what I can be as a doctor, what I hope to leave behind as a legacy as a doctor.

Committing to our dream of becoming a physician healer, comforter, and hope-giver–means to commit to continuous learning, and constant evolution. The doctor is eventually called upon to be a healer, an expert, an advocate, a leader, a teacher, and a hero.

To be IN, one has to be truly learned. One has to be updated, continuously improving, continuously evolving. One has to be specialized. To be IN, one has to be engaged with other professionals.

Is the doctor in?

Today, we ask ourselves – As a doctor, AM I IN? Am I more capable, more ready to face more complex challenges in my clinical practice? AM I IN? Am I constantly COMING CLOSER to the underlying meaning of why I chose this profession?

What is my real purpose in life and how will I MEASURE my LIFE as a physician?

In an article written by Clayton Christensen a professor of Harvard Business School, in 2010, he articulated that business models can help people lead better lives. I was struck by three questions he asked his MBA students and these questions have a profound influence on me.

First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationship with my family becomes an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail or how can I live my life with integrity?

Recent events have beleaguered the medical profession: Tarnished image of the doctors with BIR controversies, tax evasion charges against our colleagues, and many other related issues reported in the media.

We are all saddened and shocked – the medical practice, especially the business side of it, has been under scrutiny. Some of us feel we are under attack – singled out, demonized as non-compliant irresponsible citizens. We cannot be blind to the fact that the integrity and moral ascendancy of the doctor is under question.

As we move on in our personal and professional journeys, we realize that our “blissful dreams” of becoming a doctor requires more than just becoming a doctor. It requires us to be a distinguished practitioner with INTEGRITY.

Living with integrity means: Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension, behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.

When you consider what those of us here in this Hall have been given – in talent, values, and opportunity – there is almost no limit to what the country has to expect from us.

Aligned with the promise of this era, I want to challenge each of the new physicians here to take on a great task of your passion – a complex problem, a deep inequity, and become an advocate on it. If you make it the focus of your career, that would surely be a defining moment.

Don’t let negativity, bureaucracy and public apathy stop you. Be advocates. Take on the big challenges. I assure you, it will be one of the greatest experiences of your lives.

This is the moment to inform, to influence, and to inspire the nation as doctors.

Beyond healing, you, young doctors are called upon to connect and to inspire patients to embrace preventive health education and promote a culture of wellness. The call, therefore is caring over simply curing, healing above personal gain, innovating to reach more, to inspire more so that others can live longer.

Should you take the path of caring and service, should you choose to take up one of these challenges as your own, know that you’ll experience the occasional frustrations and failures. Even your victories will be marked by imperfections and unintended consequences. I guarantee you, there will be times when your friends or families will urge you to pursue more sensible endeavors with more perceptible rewards. And there will be times where you will be tempted to take their advice.

But I hope you’ll remember, during those times of doubt and frustration, that there is nothing wrong about your impulse to change the world. Because all it takes is one act of sacrifice — to send forth what the late Robert Kennedy called that “tiny ripple of hope “ and hope it will resonate with a few and become a tipping point for a huge mass action for health reforms.

There are 70,000 doctors in the country today. We have at least 30 professional medical societies. Every year, our medical schools graduate about 3,000 new doctors and roughly 50 percent of them pass the board. Every year without fail, we induct the board passers to our Hippocratic Oath and make them serve our country and our people through their being doctors.

There are 80 provinces, 1,500 towns and 35,000 barangays in the country. We have a population of 100 million and 50 percent of this population have not seen a doctor. Since two decades ago, we have been losing Filipino doctors annually to other countries and to other professions for reasons we can only empathize but not necessarily agree with. The medical practice is indeed challenged. We are losing grip of many of our good and dedicated doctors.

Yet there are also countless doctors, who have toiled without the benefit of recognition and monetary rewards to make our country a better place for all of us. Doctors who have chosen to stay in the country and serve our people and decided to forego greater economic gains and opportunities elsewhere.

Today, you accept this HONOR and challenge in their behalf, inspired with the renewed dedication to our Hippocratic covenant and promise to be healers, comforters, hope-givers, God’s helpers, and country builders.

In closing, I dare to ask a complex question and provide an almost simplistic and naive answer. What does it mean to be a Filipino physician today?

Simply, it means, to make the phrase “THE DOCTOR IS IN”, in its deepest meaning, become true, resonant and relevant to all Filipinos. Simply, it means, to be available and accessible to our countrymen. Simply, it means, to be constantly becoming better to serve others better. Simply, it means, to be passionately involved in creating and building a healthier and happier Philippines.

Imagine what we can do, if we collectively proclaim “THE DOCTOR IS IN.” Imagine if every Filipino professional, every politician, every student, every government executive, every worker, every man on the street proclaims, “I AM IN!”

What a real difference we can make, together, indeed. And what a beautiful country we can build. And all other wonderful childhood dreams of weaving magic into our world would have been realized.

And I hope you will all meet again somewhere 30 years from now and reflect on what you have done with your talent, skills, and your energy. I hope you will judge yourselves not only on your professional accomplishments and material possessions , but also on how well you have addressed the country’s deepest health inequities and problems … on how well you treated the underprivileged and the poor who have nothing in life except hoping for a better and healthier Philippines.

Today , in behalf of the Philippine College of Physicians, in behalf of all those dedicated unrecognized workforce in the medical field, all our teachers and mentors who formed and trained us; all the families that make great sacrifices to produce a doctor in their clan, all the parents who nurtured the childhood dreams of their sons and daughters; all our families, children and spouses alike, who have supported us in our quest to be faithful to our promise even if it took time away from them; and, all the patients, who rely on us, who have become our focus and inspiration in our pursuit of the betterment of our profession, I dare and boldly declare:

I’m a Filipino. And the doctor is in.

(Keynote speech delivered by Dr. Leachon during the oath taking ceremonies for new physicians at the Philippine International Convention Center last October 4, 2014.)

VitalSigns Issue 68 Vol. 3, October 1-31, 2014

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