Doctors of the People

Donning white blazers, many doctors stay in air-conditioned clinics serving well-off patients. Some work abroad for higher financial rewards. There are even those who trade their blazers for nurse’s uniforms just to be able to seek employment abroad and bring their families along with them.

But there are also doctors who work in understaffed public hospitals and make do with whatever benefits provided by government. There are doctors who walk through mountains to be able to reach and provide medical services to people in remote areas who have been abandoned by the government. Without the sanitized environment of hospitals and proper equipment; with no nurses and attendants to assist them; they try the best they can to treat patients and educate the people in primary health care. These doctors live a life away from the comforts of the city; make do with a modest allowance; and sometimes even risk their lives.

BY AUBREY MAKILAN
Bulatlat.com

*Dr. Julie Caguiat: From Exposuree to Trainor
*Dr. Natie Castro: The ‘Misyonera’ Doctor
* Dr. Chandu Claver: ‘Do Right by the People’

Dr. Julie Caguiat: From Exposuree to TrainorHeart’s desire

Ever since her medical student days, Julie’s heart has always been for community service. She was assigned in a farming community in Cavite, where she handled mostly cases of respiratory infections and skin diseases.

“Siguro may damdaming palaban nga sa akin, naaantig ako ‘pag nakakakita ako ng mahirap, nao-oppress, dinadaya,” she said, “Sa community, nakikita ko ang tunay na kalagayan, ‘yung need para sa isang doktor, ‘yung maitutulong ko at ganundin, ‘yung naitutulong din sa akin ng community.” (Perhaps I have a fighting heart. I react when I see someone being oppressed and exploited. In the community, one sees the true situation, the real need for a doctor. There I know what I can do to help and what the community can do to help me.)

She has been participating in the activities of the Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED). COMMED is a non-government organization that seeks to improve the health care system of the country, primarily by fielding physicians in the different marginalized areas all over the country.

After her medical school, Commed deployed her to her chosen area, in Bukidnon, under the HEALTH-Bukidnon, a community-based health program (CBHP).

The initial six-month exposure/integration/training program designed for physicians interested in community-based medical practice with COMMED has been extended to two years.

Challenges

Family has always been a major consideration in making decisions like this, said Julie.

Although her family tries to understand her heart’s desire, she would sometimes be encouraged to go home and practice medicine in a hospital.

“Kung saan ka committed, hahanap ka ng paraan para magawa ‘yun,” (If you are committed to something you would find a way to fulfill it.) she said. She recalled that whenever her dad would ask if community service is required by medical school, she would answer “makakatulong ‘yun.” (It would help.)

Julie loved to hike in the mountains when she was still in college. She was able to use this skill to reach communities in Bukidnon.

Although her father earns a lot working for a multinational company, they have lived a simple life. Because of this, Julie never had a hard time adapting to the way of life in the rural areas.

Receiving a very modest allowance has never been an issue to her. There was even a time when she was paying the allowance of two health workers who were assisting her in Bukidnon.

“Kahit na krisis dahil ‘di kalakihan ang sweldo, malayo sa family, kahit binabatikos ka dahil minsan ‘di rin nila naiintindihan, nakakadagdag ‘yun sa challenge pero hindi naman hinder para pagtibayin ‘yung commitment mo,” she said. (Even the crisis I experience because of the modest allowance, the separation from the family, and sometimes the flak I receive from my family because they do not always understand add to the challenge. But it does not hinder the strengthening of my commitment.)

With poor patients

Oftentimes she has patients who cannot afford to pay, said Julie. But she always does her best to help a patient. She would sometimes refer a patient to friends who can contribute something to help the patient or to doctors who give free or discounted fees to indigents. She also mobilizes the community’s support.

One patient she could not forget was a nine-year old boy. He was suffering from constipation because he thought that a certain fruit was purgative and he ate a lot of it which worsened his constipation. While health workers were holding the patient, Julie was manually extracting the boy’s feces. When the feces was extracted, the health workers almost let go of the boy. The feces was dark in color and full of dead worms. They were nevertheless happy because the boy experienced immediate relief.

There was also a patient who came to them complaining of stomach ache. Their initial diagnosis was ulcer but when they began to suspect that the patient had stomach cancer, they referred him for further tests. Instead of undergoing tests, the man sold his carabao for P10, 000 ($201.369 at an exchange rate of $1=P49.66) and sought a faith healer in Cebu. The man died after a year.

These instances are not new to them, said Julie. Because of years of being deprived of government health services, the people feel that they are hopeless. Although, they try hard to explain to patients their illness and possible treatments, many just give up knowing that they could not afford the procedures, she lamented.

She recalled that even a community close to the national highway never got the attention of the local government unit because allegedly the community did not support the winning mayor.

Her NGO is the first health program to assist the community in a long time.

Trainor

After almost a decade in Bukidnon, she was assigned to the COMMED national office in 2004.

As a training officer, she guides volunteers and prepares them for community service. She briefs them on what they have to do and how to do it, from networking to organizing. She hopes that there would be more volunteers who would extend their six-month training period to years of unrelenting commitment.

Not only did Julie find her love in community service. She as well met her partner in life, Dr. Gene Nisperos whose heart’s desire is to be of service to the people, too. Gene was then her preceptor, a term used in medical schools to describe a mentor or “supervisor.” Gene is a licensed chiropractic physician supervising graduates from accredited colleges undergoing hands-on training to be able to apply for their license to practice.

Her continuous commitment to community service even when she had her own family already proved to her parents that she is serious in pursuing this line of work, or rather service.

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