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New doctors who topped board exam recall personal struggles, strict study habits

By NICK GARCIA Published Nov 11, 2022 3:28 pm Updated Nov 11, 2022 3:42 pm

For two new doctors who made it to the Top 10 of the 2022 Physician Licensure Examination (PLE), the respective roads to getting their licenses to heal—and passing the board exam with flying colors—were quite bumpy.

Francesca Lagrosa, who placed second at the PLE last October with a score of 88.75, told PhilSTAR L!fe that one of the major challenges while reviewing for the PLE, which is already "overwhelming" in itself, was getting diagnosed with major depressive disorder last year.

“But receiving professional help and taking antidepressants really helped me get better,” Lagrosa said, adding that she feels honored and privileged to become a doctor, moreso placing second in the rankings—thanks to the help of her family, friends, professors, and mentors.

"They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I think it also takes a village to produce a doctor," said Lagrosa, who graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines Manila.

Kim Sia, who placed fourth with a score of 87.67, meanwhile felt a different kind of pressure in being the first doctor in the family.

As a medicine student, he told L!fe he didn’t have the chance to talk to his family about his daily struggles, since his parents didn’t finish college. His nine other siblings, meanwhile, were carving a niche in other disciplines.

“I just keep it in myself, hoping that it will just dissipate by itself,” he said, adding it would’ve been much more helpful if he’d receive some guidance. "Furthermore, I have no idea what my life would be after graduation."

He was originally going to take up business since his family was running a grocery store in the province. He recalled that whenever he'd come home after class, and especially during the semestral break, he'd help run the family store.

But being accustomed to helping others, he realized that entering the medical field is the way to go.

"This is the path where I can feel self-fulfillment, knowing I can touch many lives," said Sia, who graduated from the University of Santo Tomas. As the youngest of nine children, he's also thankful for his older siblings for helping fund his tuition.

Strict study habits

Lagrosa and Sia weren’t gunning to become board topnotchers, but they attributed their recent feat to their respective strict study habits.

Lagrosa said she set specific daily, weekly, and monthly goals leading to the exam day.

“Another thing that really helped me was studying together with a friend. We shared tips, resources, and motivation!” she added.

For Sia, it’s not about being a “smart” student but rather being diligentmaking a conscious effort to study.

He recalled always starting his day by reading flashcards for an hour. His “true” review for the day, he said, would then consist of going over the main handout and then doing practice tests immediately after. He also attended a review center.

“In a day, I would do 15 hours of study with few minutes of breaks in between,” Sia said. “I made the most out of my time.”

Sia also cited the significance of his Catholic faith. Aside from praying for guidance every day, he said he would also go “church hopping.”

“I made sure that there's a dedicated time for it,” he said. “I know that if I do my best in preparing for the board exam, God will grant me what I need.”

Better pay for medical frontliners

In becoming newly licensed doctors, they acknowledge that a great task lies ahead, especially because of long-running sentiments about Filipino healthcare workers getting overworked but remaining underpaid.

In Metro Manila, private hospital nurses are paid the minimum wage of P537 daily, which amounts to about P12,000 monthly. Those in the provinces get paid even less.

Public hospital nurses are at Salary Grade 15, or P35,097 monthly. Though the Filipino Nurses United said not everybody receives this amount, with some nurses in the provinces only receiving 65% of their supposed pay.

Outside the Philippines, nurses easily make six-digit figures in a month alone.

Lagrosa noted that such a systemic problem was already plaguing the country’s healthcare system—even before the COVID-19 affected the world. In any case, she believes that one of the best ways to help improve the country's healthcare system is by being here themselves.

"Whether that's in a research lab, a rural health unit, or a tertiary hospital," Lagrosa said, though noting that calls for higher wages and better working conditions must remain louder than ever. “Now, it’s our responsibility to hold officials accountable. Filipinos deserve more, we can’t settle for anything less."

As for Sia, speaking from personal experience as a nurse in one of the country's premier state hospitals, he can't help but feel "terribly disappointed" about the perennial problem of medical frontliners.

“I firmly believe that in order to give a better quality of care, (we) must first be given quality treatment,” Sia said, adding that he knows many nurses who are already going abroad with the belief that they'll have a better future there.

"This is a huge problem most especially for our patients. Who will be left to take care of them when there is an ongoing shortage of medical professionals?" he added.

Lagrosa and Sia, still on cloud nine for passing the PLE—and getting excellent scores at that—can't wait to work with doctors who came before them. They also urged students who wish to take up medicine to study well and hold on to their dreams—in hopes of also working with them someday.

“To those who came before me, I am so excited to join you and learn all that I can—this license is just the beginning,” Lagrosa said.

“It is my greatest hope that I may be able to contribute my time and skills to the practice of medicine,” Sia also said.

A total of 3,826 out of 5,958 examinees passed the PLE. Here are the takers who made it to the Top 10, according to the Philippine Regulatory Commission (PRC):

The PRC also shared the top performing schools of last month's PLE: