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Heroes in white

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 29, 2020 5:00 am

The doctors who chose to provide compassion and care during the pandemic are hailed as 2020’s heroes.

The year 2020 could be easily dismissed as something you’d rather forget due to the string of calamities and misfortunes experienced by our nation. Despite the sufferings and sacrifices, though, heroic acts of compassion and kindness shine forth every trying day.

Globally, doctors were hailed as 2020’s heroes and many adorned huge angel wings on their photos. Most physicians shyly claim, though, that they are just performing their job!

But, you see, that simple act of doing your job right all the time is really what heroes are made of. A fireman goes inside a burning building to save a life, a policeman saves an abducted child, a soldier takes a bullet intended for a civilian — they are all just doing their job.

The Department of Health bulletin last week claimed a total of 452,988 cases of COVID-19 versus the 73.5 million cases worldwide. Out of the total number of cases, 4,596 are nurses and 2,169 are doctors. Note the big difference, though. There are half a million nurses in the country compared to 85,000 doctors. That means 2.5 percent of doctors got the ailment compared to not even one percent for nurses. Sadly, two percent of the infected physicians succumbed to the disease. 

The country’s doctors are clearly exposing themselves but the reality is there are too few of them. They are badly needed. While records show that the country has close to 160,000 licensed physicians, only 85,000 are active in the country. Plus, only 35,000 are specialists. Reports claim a ratio of one doctor for every 33,000 Filipinos. In fact, “Mr. Healthcare” and former Senator of the Philippines JV Ejercito said that as many as six out of 10 Filipinos die without even seeing a doctor.

The doctors who chose to provide compassion and care during the pandemic are hailed as 2020’s heroes.

So yes, the doctors who chose to provide compassion and care during the pandemic — who, because of their commitment to their oath contributed immensely to the Philippine medical community, especially in this critical time when we are grateful that they chose to stay in the Philippines and serve their fellowmen — are exactly the doctors we need to honor and thank.

Our current pandemic situation emphasizes the underlying reason why an annual search dubbed “The Outstanding Filipino Physician” (TOFP) was conceptualized. On March 11, 2007, a Memorandum of Agreement to establish an annual search was inked between the Department of Health (DOH), represented by Sec. Francisco Duque III, and the Junior Chamber International Senate Philippines (JCISP), represented by then-president Senen Quiambao. 

The aim was to do an annual nationwide search that would showcase the outstanding work of physicians in the hope of enticing young medical students and doctors to forgo options to work abroad. 

Late last year, the 2020 JCISP national president Rene Natividad requested me to revive this national project. You see, we have only awarded this four times in the past (2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012). When the pandemic hit hard in March and paralyzed a lot of sectors, we had to be creative and sensitive to the situation. Involving the DOH was nearly impossible, given their herculean task of managing the government’s pandemic response. What made things more difficult is that the medical community is the most worked-up and stressed segment of society. 

Fortunately for my team, the past president of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), Dr. Jose Santiago Jr., and his board agreed to revive the collaboration. For 2020, we agreed to forgo the search and focus on honoring physicians posthumously. Current PMA president Dr. Benito Atienza was vice president then, and luckily again as a TOFP 2009 honoree (mind you, our youngest ever) he was proud to be part of the revival.

We went through a lot of challenges. We could have made things better if we only had more time. But if there is only one lesson we have learned in this pandemic, it is the fact that life is short and we cannot postpone any further the celebration of the meaningful lives led by our 22 TOFP awardees, who chose to commit themselves to providing care and compassion to patients here in the Philippines, especially during this critical time. 

Amid the sheltering of this pandemic year, many important lessons have been learned in terms of relationships, community, compassion and service to humanity. Next week, we will look into the lives of our fallen heroes in white.