The Department of Science and Technology with the Philippine Council of Health Research and Development (DOST - PCHRD), in partnership with the University of the Philippines – Manila (UPM) MD-PhD in Molecular Medicine program, welcomed the 12th Batch of MD-PhD scholars into the fold last 11 September, 2021 through a virtual get together. DOST – PCHRD Executive Director, Dr. Jaime Montoya, the Dean of the UPM College of Medicine (UPCM), Dr. Charlotte Chiong, and the Chairperson of the Vaccine Experts Panel, Dr. Nina Gloriani were present to send their greetings and offer inspirational messages not only to the new batch but also the ones still in the running to become doctor-researchers.
With the theme Hiraya Tungo sa Bagong Umaga, the two-hour event was filled with warm stories and words of encouragement from the ates and kuyas of the program for their bunsos.
Hiraya—which is an ancient Filipino word for the fruit of one’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations—does not only apply to the hope these doctor-researchers bring to the future of healthcare in the country but to the scholars, as well, as the program opens a vast array of opportunities for them career-wise and even life-wise.Research Professor Jose Nevado, Jr. and the graduates of the program shared the avenues available to MD-PhD graduates. Other than the obvious medical and research tracks that the program promises, Dr. Nevado shares that MD-PhD graduates can also be catalysts of change as educators, administrators, politicians, entrepreneurs, or even a combination of some or all of these possibilities. However, he warns them that though they might be tempted to take on a lot once they realize what they are capable of once they finish the program, they should practice prudence. “Just be enough in order to still be capable of producing significant impact [to] society. Do not forget that at the end of the day, you should be a servant for humanity.”
Long and Tedious Journey
The MD-PhD in Molecular Medicine is an eight-year double doctorate degree program offered by UPMC and supported by DOST – PCHRD, and is the first and only one of its kind in the country. DOST currently monitors 94 scholars, 21 of which have already finished the program and are working in different sectors of society—a significantly small number compared to the country’s need for physician-scientists, especially now that the country is racing against the spread and further mutation of COVID-19.
Dr. Nevado shared that the Philippines is one of the countries with lowest number of experts in contrast with the population, which is why their work as physician-scientists need to be of greater impact. Many of the batches shared similar aches and pain points as they wrestled the program and the tools and tip they have kept in their own survival kits to cope with moments of self-doubt, frustration, and fatigue.
Knowing their ‘why’s and taking care of one’s self are two of the most resonant pieces of advice among the mentors and the scholars present during the summit. Also, despite the already rigorous nature of the program, the MD-PhD scholars remind their younger siblings to “never settle for less” and “find better ways to serve the Filipino people.”
Everyone who testified during the summit also assured their younger siblings in the scholarship that though they have a long and tedious road ahead, their journey will be a noble and fulfilling one, and that they will not be on the journey alone.
Welcome to the Family
“You have a community to guide and help you through this journey.” Dr. Montoya said, and this sentiment echoed throughout the summit.
Though the program is undeniably tough, the MD-PhD ates and kuyas chose to focus on the highs of their stay as MD-PhD students.
Many of the MD-PhD ates and kuyas fondly impart that other than the chances given to them by the program and their DOST scholarship to travel and enjoy, make significant contributions to the scientific community and society, and foster collaborations abroad, they were also able to find and form lasting friendships with their fellow MD-PhD scholars. Their batchmates, many of them shared, are their best support system during their eight-year MD-PhD journey. “Celebrate with your batchmates. Celebrate your batchmates.” Batch 11 advises Batch 12. “They will be your family in this long journey. The very people who know exactly what you’ve gone through.”
Mentors were also instrumental in providing direction and guidance to the scholars as they navigate the program. Dr. John Carlo Malabad and Dr. Sheriah Laine De Paz-Silva, graduates of the MD-PhD program, guaranteed that chances are, the mentors they gain during their tenure in the program, like Dr. Chiong, Dr. Gloriani, and Dr. Montoya, will continue to help and guide them even when they have finished the program.
“There will always be people who will be willing to help you.” Dr. Joy Vanessa Perez from Batch 2 told her younger siblings. “So don’t be afraid to ask.” Doors will be opened for opportunities also to collaborate with scientists whose studies they have once cited for their dissertations, Dr. Malabad said.
Better Brighter Future Despite the Challenges
Virtual platforms seem limiting but also gave way to opportunities, as Christian Luke Badua and Karol Ann Baldo from Batch 10 (wittily called the Sampuguitas) observed during their presentation on local research dissemination. Online means provided wider reach for researchers as they did away with the limits set by budget constraints for travel and accommodations for international fora and conference, albeit less organic.
The MD-PhD Summit clearly would have been merrier had all the batches and the mentors congregated face to face, but the meeting never lacked warmth, and good intentions translated beyond the screen through the efforts put together by the different batches to welcome their youngest.
Dr. Sharon Yvette Angelina Villanueva of the College of Public Health in UPM thanked the different batches for their “interesting contributions” to the program during her closing remarks. She also wished that the Summit helped and inspired everyone present, not just the younger batch, to never give up and look forward to hiraya: a brighter and better tomorrow.