Two years ago this week, I began my stint at the other side of the teacher’s table in the UP College of Medicine. My first major task then was what I did today, act as preceptor for a group of second year medical students who visited a health center in Pasay City and its environs. Our aim was to give them a glimpse of the local healthcare delivery system and the state of the constituents the center serves.
It was a great bonus that the students who I acted preceptor for was the same group I worked with the last year, during the first week of their class as first years. We proceeded to our present task on hand, trudging along under the hot 1pm sun towards the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Pedro Gil Station. We quickly found ourselves jostled in the packed train en route to the Taft-EDSA LRT-MRT (Metro Rail Transit) station where we were to ride a tricycle to the San Pablo Health Center.
And then it happened. My own version of a wardrobe malfunction.
Before I left the office to meet my group, my belt died. I was adjusting it too vigorously that the buckled broke loose from the belt. Despite my best MacGyver attempts, the belt died. Since I was wearing a rather lose pair of pants, I opted to secure them to my waist by using a foldback clip- that black, some-kind-of-a-mini-black-hand-bag-looking office supply. It worked.
Until we were walking up the stairs from the LRT station headed to the MRT side. The foldback clip suddenly became loose and my pants fell 1/5 of the way down my bum. I just caught it in time- before the students, who were before me, beside me, AND behind me, could see what a side of their teacher that can scar them for life.
And so I left them to fend for themselves at a fastfood joint while I scoured the mall joining the two train systems for a clothing store that sells belts. As is wont to happen, no such luck in the first two stores I tried.
The store sold a benign belt in MY size so I just grabbed it and brought it to the cashier. Only to find out that I only had 60 pesos in my wallet: I gave part of the money in my wallet for the typhoon victims in UP Visayas and I bought lunch. Good thing I had my BPI atm card, I can just pay straight from that card. But the machine won’t accept my card. Finally, my credit card consummated the sale and I was off to meet my students, pants securely fastened to my burgeoning waist.
We literally waded through a sea of humanity, crossing from the mall to the other side of EDSA. Thousands of people were making the same trek as we were, plus a thousand others were trying to get into the MRT station via a new, one-way traffic scheme. It took us almost forever to get to the other side. Once there we went right away to the tricycle station to scamper towards the San Pablo Health Center.
It was one of the bumpiest 15-minute-or-so tricycle ride I’ve ever had. It didn’t help that I was riding behind the tricycle driver and we were crossing a major thoroughfare. We safely reached the San Pablo Health Center a good hour late, no thanks to my wardrobe malfunction.
Once there, we were introduced to the local health system of Pasay by the health center doctor, Dr Sy. He explained the protocols and personnel which make the center run. The students fielded a good number of questions such as the average number of consults, types of patients seen, dealing with emergencies in the community, among others. The volunteer village health workers then shared their own experiences as partners in promoting health in the community. The group then split into five groups which toured the different areas of the barangay.
After thirty or so minutes, we all came back to the health center to discussed what we all learned in the afternoon’s session. There was a steady stream of questions ranging from BHW compensation to health and sanitation issues. But the most difficult question was not about a DOH policy or some health concerns. The question that struck me the most was this:
With all the hassles of riding the LRT, the tricycle, all the dust and the heat- is it worth it? Coming to Pasay and working with these communities?
I paused for a millisecond, and put on my self-effacing hat:
I replied, yes it is worth it.
It is worth it, I explained, because I am a person with low EQ. I am impatient. I can’t wait to improve the health system by dealing with one patient at a time. By working with communities, I can help effect wider, faster change. How? By engaging communities, like training volunteer village health workers through whom I multiply myself as a health service provider. The outcomes are worth all the hassle, when erstwhile idle mothers, wives, grandmothers now feel a certain amount of empowerment because of some knowledge or skill I have shared which in turn they are duty-bound to share with their families and neighbors.
That answered seemed to suffice for the students but it really got me to thinking…
Is it really worth it? Do the rudimentary hassles of traveling, politics, seemingly abject poverty really pale in comparison to what I gain as a, in a way, community doctor?
Yes, they do.
Especially when you hear the village health workers share that they no longer panic when a baby seems to have diarrhea because they now know how to take care of him at home. They also know when to take him to the doctor.
Or you hear them give an excellent lecture on nutrition or family planning to a group of young parents.
Or you listen to their discussion on fighting for the allowance that should rightfully be theirs as stated in the Barangay Health Workers Incentives Law.
Or they show off their skill in taking your blood pressure measurement, report on the number of pregnant women they have encouraged to go have pre-natal checkups, or lovingly chastises a patient who self medicates because of the danger of drug resistance
These are just some of the reasons I am staying in the Philippines. These are just some of the reasons I am going against my parents’ silent wish for me to join them in the US, supportive they maybe of my decision to practice community medicine here.
But I guess a major, major reason I am staying here in the Philippines is what another student shared as a major lesson he learned this afternoon: That hope and faith are currencies that may hold no value inside the classroom- but he has seen it in action with the dedicated health professionals and village health workers holding the fort in San Pablo Health Center.
I totally agree. I know that the Lord answers the prayers of those who pray for better health and more decent living conditions, especially among the urban poor. I do have faith and hope for our country springs eternal within me. The students I have been blessed to work with the past two years are a testament of the Lord’s faithfulness that He is looking after the Philippines. I know there is a steady crop of doctors-to-be who I can help nurture to be more pro-Philippines.
But until they grow into medical maturity, I have to be one of those who hold the fort for them. One of the best things I’ve heard during my stint in Gawad Kalinga is that while I pray for answers to our country’s problems, I’d like to be one of the answers to the prayer of our fellow Filipinos.
This ends my second year in the UP on the other side of the proverbial teacher’s table. This likewise marks the beginning of my third year. It’s been a great privilege to be of service to the communities of Pasay, acting as preceptor to some 400 medical students, and working directly or indirectly alongside the 600-strong faculty of the UP College of Medicine.
The Lord continues to affirm my decision to remain in the UP for now. He makes everything worth it. He has taken care of all my daily needs- from the mundane to the exotic to the most academic.
Even the provision of the right belt with the right color and right size, at the right place and right time.