Breaking the hiatus

It’s been a while since I was able to write anything on my blog. But for the past weeks, I’ve been very happy balancing my teaching with real world experience, both in the field and in engaging with health policy researchers and decision makers.

For instance, thanks to my friends in a health policy consulting firm, we are helping public health program managers develop integrative policies. In another project I’m doing, I am mentoring colleagues who are developing their skill in health policy and systems research in government health agencies. In yet another project with foreign colleagues, we are aiming to identify points for improvement in health financing in Asean. On top of these is my work with #HealthXPh and mentoring our community medicine rotators in an urban poor community in the south of Manila.

There has been so much to learn from my interactions from various collaborators, both within the country and internationally, that I have been very enthusiastic to bring the learnings back to home turf, in the college where I work. Melding these lessons with my own experiences in public health strengthens my drive even more. I feel a certain sense of responsibility to share these things to my students. I have to show that in aiming to serve the poor and marginalized, the way to go is to be ready to accept different views, insights and changes.

But, expectedly, change will be unacceptable at the start, just like the evoked feeling of unusual pasalubong that relatives bring home from a foreign country. Sometimes, the seeming initial rejection is enough to frustrate, even leading one to move on and look for more appreciative venues.

Nonetheless, this isn’t enough reason to give up.

Though I will agree that it takes skill and practice to pitch one’s ideas, change and progress have to be embraced. Change is never easy. Like how stressed aquarium fishes tend to get after the water gets changed, it’s understandable if one’s efforts towards increasing awareness and building self-reliance seem to backfire at the start.

This brings me to why I try to adjust the way I teach: the world isn’t getting kinder.

Five Filipino doctors, three in public health and two in clinical specialty fields, were killed within the past six months. These deaths may be due to a variety of reasons, but as someone who shared in their career paths at one point of my life, I feel that these deaths are a manifestation of how our health system is enmeshed with politics, governance, business and other seemingly unrelated pursuits, and how future doctors have to be well-equipped. Meanwhile, an increasing number of colleagues have been victims of doctor shaming, where doctors exercising their ordinary care and diligence are being berated on social media for various reasons.

We need doctors who will not rest on their laurels.

I believe that getting ready to practice in a world afflicted with these things requires a balance of versatility, proactivity and discipline. Those traits may well be cultivated in good class attendance, in diligently solving a biostatistics problem, or recognizing the merits of producing a creative work. Meanwhile, the lack thereof may well be demonstrated in cases in which health professionals would fail to provide the prescribed intervention to destitute patients, by not making do with limited resources, or doing something to address the lack. This is the kind of situation I would like to prevent, since lives hang in the balance.

Despite the odds, I am optimistic. I know it may be difficult for my students, but I hope this gets to them: we are in this together. I share in the difficulty, since learning how to be an effective mentor is difficult as well. Nevertheless, for the sake of our changing world and the patients we serve, the journey has to be trod. The good news though is we can moderate the pace of the journey.

But not too slow. The world and our patients anxiously await.

My journey with #HealthXPh

I would like to thank people who attended the recently concluded Philippine Healthcare and Social Media Summit 2017 (#HCMSPh2017) held in Cebu last 25 April.
The summit, now on in its third year, is organized by #HealthXPh, a community of Filipino doctors with a common passion to promote social media as a means for health awareness and patient empowerment. 

But aside from the summits, actually, the main activity of this community is the weekly tweetchat held every Saturday night, where we discuss various issues and their impact on health and clinical practice. Unique with this chat is a refreshing friendly environment, a respite from the hierarchy characteristic of the medical profession. After all, more ideas spring out when people are open to express themselves freely.

Starting as an endeavor shared by a group of friends, #HealthXPh was started by endocrinologist Dr. Iris Isip-Tan, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Remo Aguilar, medical educator Dr. Buboy Tapia, and occupational physician and patient advocate Dr. Gia Sison. Eventually, obstetrician-gynecologist and community maternal health advocate Dr. Helen Madamba joined the fold. At every step of the way, #HealthXPh was supported with fatherly care and support by trauma surgeon and former undersecretary of health Dr. Ted Herbosa. 

Then late last year, through my inclusion in its regular rotation of tweetchat moderators, I became part of the group, and became its bunso, its youngest member.

Until now I’m awed at how I managed to be part of such a formidable cast of clinicians and advocates. How did it happen? I don’t know precisely. What I do know is that I have been participating in the tweetchats since the group’s infancy, and I just found myself gravitating towards their mission and the fun-loving personality that they share as a group. 

For me, participating in the tweetchat populated by global and national movers and influencers required a lot of chutzpah. But after receiving news about the first tweetchat in late 2013, I felt I just had to join the conversation. Having just ended my stint in the Doctors to the Barrios program, I developed a desire to share my experiences and learn from others as well. #HealthXPh was the venue I was looking for.

In the interim, I have been on and off with my participation in the group, having been busy with other matters. But I knew that the tweetchat habit was more than anything else as I eventually realized that my Saturday night was incomplete without it. It complemented the health policy research I do for a living, and more importantly, taught how to communicate my ideas effectively through social media. Most of all, it has become like family.

Thankfully, about late last year I had the opportunity to adjust my schedule and make time for the regular tweetchat, and develop a great friendship with its regular participants. Before I knew it, we were planning together for a national summit, that to my pleasant surprise they have been organizing annually.

It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside that a national healthcare social media initiative began as a tweetchat organized a passionate group of friends, and that they have given me an opportunity to be part of it.

I share this story as an invitation to people who would like to contribute to the success of health care social media in the Philippines. Attending the HCSMPH is just the beginning. Join us in the #HealthXPh tweetchat every 9PM Saturdays, and let’s exchange ideas. Who knows, your idea might just be what our country needs to achieve better health!