Why I travel

Since childhood, I’ve always dreamt to travel the world.

Now that my career objectives are becoming clearer, I now choose to believe that this passion for travel serves a purpose: it reminds me of how I should be open to new perspectives and experiences. Very useful, especially for someone carving a career in the academe.

In the middle of my mid-year vacation in Taiwan, I met up with a public health researcher from another Southeast Asian country, four years my senior and already a post-doctoral research fellow at Taipei Medical University (TMU). In between more light-hearted topics, I was asked by my new friend about the research I was doing. With cordial but hard-hitting frankness, he told me that my subject matter is already obsolete, and I need to look at new angles to solving public health problems.

I was stunned.

Thankfully, he invited me on short notice to attend an international public health summit, a collaboration between TMU and the schools of public health of the University of Tokyo and the National University of Singapore. I expected that it would be a chance to be updated. I was looking for a new conceptual framework on which I could help improve my thinking patterns as a budding researcher in my field.

Gladly, I wasn’t disappointed. There were three key messages that I picked up from the summit:

  • More than just focusing on the science, public health needs to develop its own art. It should provide solutions that not only address superficial needs but also, “hidden commitments” and cultural norms, which require a more creative approach.
  • Public health should shake itself off from a fragmented, health service-oriented conceptual framework imposed on it by biomedical science. As it is a public discipline, it needs to integrate points of view from implementors, academics and frontline health workers. It needs to be led by people who know how to carry out interventions, promote them and assess them.
  • Finally, public health should provide its practitioners with the skill to zoom out of the picture and recognize one’s role in maintaining health security. This should go beyond political boundaries. As a partially recognized political entity without benefit of full membership in various international organizations, Taiwan is quite experienced with this. In pushing for a greater role in maintaining health security, it used one of its most powerful forces: its academe.

Somehow my experiences have taught me these things, but it is gratifying to hear these lessons straight from the experts.

This gathering reminded me to regularly zoom out and connect with like-minded researchers who have amassed experiences and have become prolific authors. When asked about his secret, my new friend told me that it’s all about being passionate for one’s chosen field of research. If one is indeed passionate, he would be willing to sacrifice time and resources to achieve one’s goal.

I am happy that these realizations became part of an already existing passion for travel. But I’m more happy now I now have a better reason.

It will challenge me to be more productive, as I continue my goal to bring the barrio doctor voice to the academe. It will allow me to become a better public health researcher.

Finally, it will allow me to work better towards the goal of promoting “health for all.”


Thanks to Dr. Tuyen Van Duong for inviting me to this event (and for taking the picture above), and for Dr. Don Prisno for linking me up with colleagues at Taipei Medical University.

The speakers at the International Public Health Summit at TMU were Dr. Masamine Jimba, professor of community and global health at the University of Tokyo, Dr. Chia Kee Seng, dean of the Saw See Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, and Dr. Kuo Nai-wen, dean of the school of public health at TMU.

A prayer of thanksgiving

Today is my birthday. As a Christian I would like to thank God for the past thirty years with this prayerful song.

Blessing and glory, 

wisdom and thanksgiving, 

honor and power 

and might be to our God, 

forever and ever, 

Amen, Amen, Amen.

Wonderfully unusual

NOTE: This post is my participation in The Blog Rounds 3.0, where doctor-bloggers write about a certain topic of shared interest. This week, a moderator suggested we write about this: what would have been my career if I didn’t choose to be a doctor? 


College yearbooks here in the Philippines have this special quirk: not only does one have a picture dressed in academic attire, but also a creative shot, in which one could choose to wear anything, portray anything and be anything. Usually, it’s something else aside from the career one has chosen to study.

Being in a pre-medical program, it was almost certain that all of us would end up in medical school. So almost all of my classmates chose not to include anything “medical” in their creative shots. They imagined themselves as fairies, anime characters, or movie stars.

Always the class rebel, I chose one of the pictures taken of me while working in the hospital. It manifested how I really wanted to live my life as a medical graduate: that I’d rather live my life pursuing my passions than living life confined within the hospital. 

This is of course, not to denigrate those who have chosen to serve as hospital clinicians. I know what it takes to do so, and I have great respect for them. But as for me, I never liked life in the hospital. Because of this, in the course of my professional life I explored non-clinical and even non-medical career options. 

In short, I loved being a doctor, but I wanted to know how else could I become a doctor aside from being a clinician. Honestly, I initially didn’t have any concrete idea of what I wanted, and as a result I allowed myself to go with the flow of things. To my relief, these experiences led me to a greater idea of what I want in life.

So to answer the question: I think I would still be who I am now. 

How did it turn out?

Allow me to walk you through various stages of my life that allowed me to get to where I am now. It is actually a very opportune time for me to do this. In a week’s time I turn thirty. The added decade seems to tell everyone that this person has experienced a lot. For the past few years, I sure did.

After going through various difficulties and diversions along the way (which even included multi-level marketing at one point), I graduated from medical school at the age of twenty-four. I subsequently worked for the government health service in the rural areas of northern Luzon, and ended my stint as a rural physician at twenty-six, having done a lot of stuff in between: a member and eventual officer of a Toastmasters club, and a member of a charismatic prayer group. 

After my stint in government service, I was still not convinced that the hospital life for me. I then took on a personal journey that took me to a lot of places and situations, and allowed me to adopt various roles. 

Choosing not to pursue specialty training, I instead chose to become a researcher and educator, first in the state university, and later, in the college where I now work. Eventually, I tried out a live-in vocation discernment program, while trying out things like teaching morality and ethics to high school students, learning philosophy and theology, and writing assignments for literature class.

Perhaps by now this account has become a dizzying list of things that I’ve chosen to do instead of settling with a clinical specialty. Perhaps you’re wondering how I’ve been able to put up with all this; especially since every change of career represented the start of another journey. It’s always tiring to start something new. Why did I not choose something stable right away? I don’t know either. Maybe I’m free-spirited, a rebel without a cause. Or am I?

Notwithstanding, I’d say that I was able to go through all this as a way of learning how to live independently, to live alone and purposefully while not feeling lonely. It was more of force of circumstance than anything else. My family emigrated when I was twenty-five, four years too late for me to be included in the immigrant visa petition that allowed them to leave. It started quite painfully, having been raised in a deeply religious and tightly knit environment. 

But I felt that destiny had something in store for me with that event in our family. The nights I’d have to spend far away from family would have to be nights where I can dream and imagine how I can make a mark in the world. And thus, allowing me to try a lot of things.

In the mountainous region where I served, I was a manager by day, and visionary at night. I spent my nights dreaming for the best to happen to my area of assignment, looking at successful case studies, and thinking of how to make things better for the community I serve.

Back in Manila after that stint, I was a researcher and educator by day, and still a visionary at night. I wanted my research to impact on the lives of people I encountered as a rural physician. I wanted to speak on behalf of rural physicians and represent their interests in academia and policy. I wanted to soar and take the barrios with me. It was a tall order, and for me it was a sweet burden to bear. But destiny had another surprise. It led me to consider the possibility of living the religious life.

Under the tutelage of a prominent religious order, I joined a ten-month vocation discernment program, a sort of religious ‘aspirancy’, where I realized how important it is to get in touch with oneself, with all its quirks, emotions, desires, feelings and aspirations, which often come up recurringly in the frequent solitary prayer periods and the schedule I shared with my co-formands each day. It felt like heaven on earth, but it had difficulties too, which I felt were far outweighed by the spiritual advantages. At one point, I concluded that maybe this was the stable life I’ve always wanted. But at the back of my mind, I wondered what had become of my vision to soar and take the barrios with me. 

That question got answered after the ten-month program. I was notified that I was not to continue religious formation. Letting the dust settle after such a disturbing outcome, I knew they had good reasons for doing so. Perhaps they saw that I was better pursuing my rural-oriented academic goals. 

Nonetheless, I was devastated. Sometimes the pain can still be felt at times; it has only been only a little over the year since it happened. Frantically I prayed for answers, looked around and tried to zoom out of the situation. 

Thankfully, after getting back on my feet, going back to my halted academic career and reconnecting with friends and colleagues, I then realized that maybe, I’m better off in continuing my attempt to soar and lovingly take the barrios with me. And do so much more.

I rediscovered my passion for health care social media, and reconnected with dear friends at #HealthXPh. I learned how to write again, do public speaking, do research and teach again. But, armed with experiences of rejection and disappointment, as well as an enduring vision to do great things, I knew I wasn’t “crossing the same river” anymore, as Heraclitus wrote in a famous philosophical fragment.

Still, everything feels surreal.

“Surreal” would describe a particular experience that seems extraneous from mundane reality; in other words, something unusual. Something extraordinary. Modestly, I wouldn’t want to describe my life journey as extraordinary, but I do agree that it had been quite unusual. 

Wonderfully unusual.

And I can only be grateful and happy, for being the kind of doctor I’ve always wanted to be.