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To be a doctor

12:16 AM September 27, 2016

THE THEME of this year’s commemoration of Medicine Week, “Pagkakaisa ng Manggagamot Tungo sa Kalusugan ng Pamayanan”—unity of physicians toward national health—is timely amid the present state of healthcare delivery in the country. Many barangays are still underserved and neglected in this day and age. Meanwhile, the world has literally shrunk with the advent of modern technologies, and intercontinental travel has become commonplace—which is why diseases are able to easily spread in a matter of days or weeks. As Health Secretary Paulyn Rosell-Ubial says, it is important for Filipino physicians to mount a united front in addressing the health problems of the community.

It’s a good time for us doctors to pause awhile and consider what it is to be a doctor.

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During my internship days in Baltimore, Maryland, in the mid-1960s, I had the rare privilege of becoming personally acquainted with the great medical writer, Dr. Felix Martí-Ibañez. As editor in chief of the internationally circulated MD Magazine read by millions of doctors all over the world, he wrote the most beautiful essays I have ever read. I was so fascinated by his superb philosophical essays that I wrote him a letter of appreciation. That started our unique friendship through correspondence. During my five-year sojourn in America, he would from time to time send me reprints of his work.

Once, when asked by his freshmen students what it means to be a doctor, Martí-Ibañez told them: “To be a doctor in the true sense of the word is to be a whole man, who fulfills his task as a scientist with professional quality and integrity; as a human being, with a kind heart and high ideals; and as a member of society, with honesty and efficiency.”

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According to Martí-Ibañez, being a doctor means much more than dispensing pills or patching up torn flesh and shattered minds. To him, to be a doctor is to be an “intermediary between man and God.” To him, medicine should concern itself more, and above all, with the prevention of disease and the promotion of health.

The doctor-philosopher maintained that the physician has, throughout history, helped men and women in their physical, mental and social ascent. He wrote: “As a professional, the physician has always acted as a healer using faith, empiricism, or rational resources; as a knower, for he knows the secrets of nature and of the human being; as a preventer, for he can arrest disease by forestalling its vanguards before they develop; and as an organizer, for he can guide society in fighting the historico-social process called disease. To heal, to know, to prevent, to organize—these are the spheres of professional activity embraced in the expression, ‘to be a doctor.’”

And what about the physician’s duty to society? Marti-Ibañez wrote: “The doctor’s duty to society is to be an idealist, not a hedonist: as a physician, to accept his profession as a service to mankind, not a source of profit; as an investigator, to seek the knowledge that will benefit his fellow beings; as a clinician, to alleviate pain and heal the sick; as a teacher, to share and spread knowledge and always because he is imbued with an ideal of service and not the ambition for gain. The physician should maintain the dignity of the medical profession as a social science applied to the welfare of mankind.”

Marti-Ibañez constantly admonished the medical students who passed through his tutelage that their duty is to act toward their patients with kindness, courtesy and honesty. He wrote: “In medicine, there is no room for amateurs or dilettanti. [It is] a noble career in which we must all aspire to be masters of whatever we undertake, for the mistakes of medical carpenters and prescriber’s apprentices can have tragic results!”

Dr. Floriño A. Francisco, a pediatrician based in Cabanatuan City, is also a freelance feature writer, past president of the Nueva Ecija Medical Society, and 2010 recipient of the Topics (The Outstanding Physician in Community Service) Award.

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