Balikbayan doctors

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

There was a time in the ‘60s and ‘70s when graduates of our medical schools did not consider their education complete until they had undergone training in the United States. Most of them became “diplomates” after passing examination by US medical specialty boards.

My eldest sister, a graduate of UP College of Medicine (UPCM) in the early ‘60s, was one of them. After an additional year of training at PGH, she left for the US to train at Yale Medical School. After being certified by the specialty board for Dermatology, she stayed on in the US to practice, teach, and eventually work with the NIH.

My late brother-in-law, Dr. Arturo Ludan, also a UP med school graduate, similarly left for the US to train in pediatrics. After being certified by the pediatrics specialty board, he returned home to set up his practice and teach at UP.

There must have been less than 10 medical schools in the Philippines at that time, but the US Embassy had to rent out the Araneta Coliseum when it was time to give fresh med school graduates the examination to qualify them for US training. Many lamented the deluge of young doctors to the US, calling it a brain drain.

But giving our young doctors a chance to get advanced training has its good side too. With the fast pace of technological developments in medicine, Filipino doctors benefit from the exposure to foreign medical practice.  In the case of my brother-in-law, he came back so it was a brain gain.

But many, like my sister, decided to stay in the US and figure out how they can just give back to the motherland some other way. She, instead, funded a professorial chair in the name of our parents who were both alumni of UPCM.

My friend, Dr. Emmanuel Lat, a surgeon in New York, makes it a point to go back home now and then and do medical missions. Local doctors don’t always appreciate balikbayan doctors doing medical missions, but it is something our people need.

Indeed, local doctors and the DOH should welcome balikbayan doctors and use their visits as opportunities to learn new developments. After all, local doctors are often very busy and rarely have time to read medical journals.

Here is Dr. Lat’s story of how he pays back.

“After graduating from the UPCM in 1972, my wife Zenda and I decided to go to the United States for specialty training just like many other Filipino doctors. We left in 1974, and by 1981 we were ready to go home.

“Those were the turbulent martial law years. Our families on both sides told us to stay in the United States. By the time they told us to come home in 1986-87, we were already settled and the children just wanted to stay in the US.

“We continued to visit often, and by the 1980s we were actively involved with UPMASA (University of the Philippines Medical Alumni Society in America), a fully registered US charitable foundation to help UP, PGH, and UPCM in whatever way we can. The Permanent Endowment Fund of UPMASA now stands at about $12 million.

“In the early 1990s, Zenda and I started to join medical missions of other Philippine medical schools as UP did not have one yet. Because of our experience, we asked the UPMASA New Jersey-New York chapter to start doing medical missions in 1994.

“The UPMASA medical missions then joined with that of UP’s Ugnayan ng Pahinungod and the joint mission has been yearly since 1994, with the last one in Bukidnon in 2020.

“The COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2021 medical mission. These medical missions do make a big difference as surgeries are done by all specialties except for cardiac and neurosurgery.

“By the early 2000s, we thought that building a dormitory in UP Manila would be a worthwhile project. We visited dormitories in UP Diliman and UP Cebu. We saw that they were in disrepair and poorly maintained.

“In contrast, on our visits to Harvard and Yale during our son, David’s school days, we saw dormitories that were hundreds of years old, but well maintained…

“UP Manila chancellor Dr. Ramon Arcadio offered a 275 square meter area next to the UP College of Pharmacy. The charitable foundation Phi House Foundation Inc. was registered with the Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission.

“But it took five years from 2007 to 2012 for a Memorandum of Agreement  to be signed  since we insisted that the dormitory will be run by a third party, not by UP Manila because of what we saw with the UP dormitories.

“It only happened because Dr. Magdaleno Albarracin donated a dormitory to UP with a MOA drawn up in 2009 and the building finished by 2010. Its MOA stated that the dormitory will be run by a third party…

“The Phi House Foundation Inc. presented its MOA patterned after that of Dr. Albarracin’s… Ground-breaking for the Phi House was done on Dec 12, 2012. Construction was finished ahead of schedule and below budget in December of 2014.

“In the five years that the Phi House has been running, P6 million has been donated to UPCM for their Medical Sciences Building, P1.5 million to PGH for a nurses’ station, P1 million to UP Los Banos Infirmary for two patient rooms, P1.6 million to UPCM for a virtual anatomy table, and P287,000 for a UPCM summer project called BLISS.

“A housing scholarship continues to provide free housing for deserving students. Even with the pandemic, the Phi House continues to have 100 percent occupancy. The Phi House continues to be financially sound, with more than P8 million in the bank.”

But more than just a dormitory, what UP-PGH needs are more opportunities to expose their faculty to the latest trends in medicine abroad. The basic talent is there, as it has always been. But exchange programs with other teaching hospitals abroad should be very helpful.

Filipino doctors in America are very willing to help. We should let them.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco




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