[Graduation Address: Davao Medical School Foundation, 22 April 2014, on invitation of DMSF Chair Jore Lacuesta and President Jonathan Alegre]
I will not pretend that I have any medical expertise. I don’t. You do. The celebration of your graduation from the Davao Medical School Foundation (DMSF) today attests to that. Your medical training has been rigorous and thorough. As President of PAASCU, I can attest to that. Your school has achieved Level I accreditation. Only ten out of 28 medical schools in the Philippines have any form of accreditation, and your school is one of them. Your PAASCU accreditation is recognized by the US Department of Education’s National Committee on Foreign Medical Education Accreditation; it reflects the wise academic leadership of your administrators and competence of your teachers. It is in this context that you have been trained, tried and tested. You have not been found wanting. You are qualified now for proximate preparations for the Board, certainly with excellent chances of success. This should be followed by a life of professional excellence. Seizing the joy of this moment, I say, congratulations!
DMSF has taken care of your professional preparation. Allow me to use the privilege of this address to talk to the human side of your lives. Let us start with faith. Recently I was asked to write an article for Esquire Magazine on Faith. I was to answer the question, “What is faith?” I guess the answer I gave was more descriptive than definitive. I said, “If you fly Philippine Airlines, you need faith. If you fly Cebu Pacific, well, you need more faith.” Life is certainly not possible without faith. You need a fundamental faith in the Filipino driver to cross a street; otherwise you will be paralyzed by fear and never cross. And whenever you are confined to a hospital for an operation, you need faith that the doctor who will operate is, first, competent, but also intent on using his scalpel not to kill, but to heal. As you embark on your professional careers as doctors, it may be useful to take stock of your personal faith. Where is it? In what do you put your faith? Does faith draw you into yourself, or does faith draw you out of yourself? Does faith empower you to meet the challenges of the contemporary world?
Faith may necessarily have to begin with oneself – in putting faith in oneself. One may have had years and years of training in writing, but in the end lack the requisite faith in oneself to publish a first article. One has a notion one must be perfect, so never accepts the risk of being imperfect. One fears the criticism that may burst the illusions of one’s megalomania or of one’s insecurities. I suppose that this is also the case in making your first diagnosis or in mending your first broken bone. You need to have faith in yourself. Only then can you get the experience that enhances that faith.
Usually, this faith in oneself is warranted because people have put their faith in you. You are able to believe in yourself because your parents have put their faith in you; you are able to overcome your insecurities and inhibitions, because all of a sudden there is this other wonderful talented congenial person with twinkling eyes who believes in you. In the context of this graduation, you are able to put faith in your diagnostic acumen and healing skills because the DMSF has put its faith in you. That is what your diploma means, correct? This is what your graduation is about, isn’t it? Your school finds you worthy; it puts its faith in you.
Once you are able to put your faith in yourself because others have put their faith in you, you are able also to put your faith in others. Putting your faith in a scholar may enable her to perform credibly; placing your faith in a student leader may spell the difference between mediocrity and excellence. Putting your faith in a shy nurse may empower her to outstanding service; putting your faith in another doctor may enable him finally to see vistas in human living beyond his daily drudgery and thoughts of professional fees.
For this graduation day, it is sufficient to ask: How goes it with my faith? Who are those who have placed their faith in me? In whom do I put my faith? Some people put their faith in money; others, in power; others, in technology; yet others in pleasure. What does my faith in my life enable? Whom does it empower. What energies, creative or destructive, does it unleash? For the Marxist, faith connects to the history-making powers of humanity. For the Muslim, faith connects to Allah. For the Christian, faith connects to the Father through Jesus Christ. One puts one’s faith in Jesus Christ, only after one has experienced God putting his faith in ourselves. The faith that God put in ourselves is empowering. Jesus empowered Peter to walk on the water; he empowers us to do what all consider impossible.; it is only when he withdraws his faith from Jesus that he begins to think.
Where do you put your faith? I refer to your lived faith, and not just your professed faith. We all know what you profess and what you live is like night and day. Your lived faith is what separates you from other people. It defines what is boring in your life or extraordinary. It distinguishes you as mediocre or as heroic; it makes you a loser or a winner. As a doctor it may define the difference between whether you are a heel or a healer.
A doctor is a heel, I think, when doctoring is reduced to whether or not a patient can pay sufficient pesos or centavos for healing; it is when one appropriates to one’s private self the knowledge and skills gathered over centuries for healing, and prostitutes these to enrich oneself; it is when the doctor or the medical apparatus that surrounds him refuses life-saving service unless paid for up front; it is when the Hypocratic Oath in practice is pure hypocrisy. I know this is complicated in a free-enterprise economy that eschews socialism. But every doctor must choose between being a doctor, or being a healer.
A doctor is a healer, I think, when doctoring has not been reduced to physical tinkering; where the science of medicine is not merely the mechanical manipulation of the physical anatomy, the set of physical interventions which may restore a human body to wholeness, but ignore the realm of the emotions, beliefs, fears, distress, depression, hopes, faith, and spirit of the human being. Of course, a doctor must make the interventions that that restore physical health; the interventions that cure dengue, overcome tuberculosis, treat heart attacks, and battle cancer must be appropriate and precise. But healing also involves recognition of the person of the patient, respect of his or her dignity, insight into the patient’s culture and cultural needs, and sensitivity to the person’s religious beliefs and needs. Of course, to make appropriate medical interventions, the doctor cannot get emotionally entangled with every patient; but this does not mean the doctor may not be in touch with the human person. In hospitals I have experienced doctors who come into a hospital room with a phalanx of nurses, look at a chart, bark out instructions to a resident, and lecture the students on the idiosyncrasies of the patient’s malady, as they might all appreciate in the specimen on the bed. The patient feels like a slab of cold meat. I have also met doctors who – without losing time – are able to make patients feel that they are human, explain to them what they are reading from the charts, tell them what medicines are being administered to them, and help them appreciate their options on a journey to health.
Jesus was a healer. “…Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness” (Mt. 9:35). “They brought unto him all that were sick, holden with divers diseases and torments, possessed with demons, and epileptic, and palsied; and he healed them.” (Mt. 4: 24). He healed the man with the withered hand (Mt. 12:10ff), the man born blind (Jn 9:32), the paralytic lowered down from the roof (Mt. 2:4ff). At Nain, he even raised the only son of the widowed mother from the dead, and restored him to his mother (Lk 7.11 ff). Jesus was a healer. He used his healing powers not just to restore sick bodies to health, but to restore persons to human wholeness, repairing not only broken bodies, but broken spirits, healing especially their broken relations to his compassionate Father. I suppose all doctors, especially those who understand themselves to be disciples of Jesus, shall have in the light of faith to understand their learned competencies to heal in relationship to the power of Jesus to heal. In deep personal prayer they shall have to work out what the relationship of their faith is to their profession. In their healing, do they compete with Jesus the healer? Do they effectively deny Jesus? Do they ignore him? Do they accommodate him – make him, as it were, an adjunct to their scientific healing? Or, make him a convenient optional tool to their learning? Or, even with all of their medical training, experience and savvy, do they understand their healing power ultimately in the power of Jesus, firmly believing that “without him they can do nothing” (cf. Jn 15:5). As I said at the outset of this talk, as you embark on your professional careers, it may be good to examine the status of your faith. You are no longer children. As doctors you shall be entrusted with lives. You shall be entrusted with the respect not only of those in your medical community but of people in your human community. You shall be called healer. But you shall also be called “Doctor”, teacher. What will you teach? What in life do you have to say? In what, or in whom, do you put your faith?
As doctors you shall also be part of civil society. You will not be able to heal people without being asked to take co-responsibility for human society. You will not be able to heal people without being asked what you as a doctor teach relative to what is good for people in general, what is good for their lives, what is helpful for their happiness. This shall begin, of course, with your families. But it will flow into your relationships and responsibilities for your local, national and global communities. Once again, you shall be asked what do you believe is good for people, not just good for you, or good for your fellow doctors, or good for your fellow wealthy, but good for all? Again, in terms of the common good, what do you believe? What is the content and demand of your faith? This again is a matter that you may need to take deep into personal prayer, especially here in Mindanao, not just because Kim Henares complains that doctors in Mindanao don’t pay taxes properly, but because in general the demands of the common good are too often roundly ignored. The general drive is for private good. What is good for me? Or what is good for just us – para sa atin-atin o sa amin-amin lang? Not what is good for us all? In Mindanao, you will have to take position relative to the common good, and either ignore or heed its imperatives. How will you as a doctor take position relative to our shared aspirations for peace, where so many refuse to abandon their prejudices and give up their unjust private privileges? How will you as a doctor take position relative to the shared responsibility to respect and preserve our environment, when it is so lucrative to invest money into economic projects that destroy the environment? How will you as a doctor take position relative to policies and realities of health care in Mindanao. Our people, especially in our hinterlands, do not have enough doctors. They do not have adequate medical facilities and medical care. I have just come home from an overland trip through Lanao, Cotabato and Maguindanao; the need for doctors there, especially in rural Bangsamoro communities, is acute. It is a crying need in most rural communities of Mindanao. The position that you take as doctors in lived faith will define you as heel or healer, unresponsive or responsive, irresponsible or responsible, mediocre or heroic, as laid back or leader.
Thank you for choosing to study medicine, and for your success in this respected institution! Our prayer is that as this institution, your relatives and friends salute you upon your graduation, and put their faith in you, that you find the faith to be healing doctors and true, responsible and heroic leaders of the community for the common good!