Commencement Address by Rosario Angeles Tan-Alora, MD,
FPCP, delivered during the 20th Commencement Exercises of the Ateneo
de Zamboanga University School of Medicine held July 10, 2017 at the Garden
Regarded as the “pillar of Bioethics in the
Philippines,” Dr Alora is an infectious disease consultant and the chair of the
Ethics Committee of the University of Sto Tomas Hospital in Manila and a member
of the Committee on Information Dissemination, Training and Advocacy of the
Philippine Health Research Ethics Board. She also founded the South East Asian
Center for Bioethics.
She has authored and published a number of books in
Bioethics and received several accolades, the most recent of which, conferred
in May 2017 is the Dr Gonzalo Austria Memorial Award, the Philippine College of
Physicians Highest Award.
Following is her speech.
Felicitations on your graduation!
You have endured, persevered and grown in medical and
public health school.
This afternoon is your time of deserved glory. Congratulations
to each graduate and to all who sacrificed to help you arrive at graduation.
At the same time, let me remind you that you have much
work ahead. Your talent and education distinguish you as special. Your parents,
family members, teachers, patients, barangay comrades, tax payers and all who
have contributed to make you what you are, expect much from you.
Two specific situations call your attention.
In your schooling, as you met patients and worked in
communities, you surely observed the huge differences in health and healthcare
delivery – the variations among different age, socioeconomic, religion, gender,
and geography groups.
As an example, a 64 year old wealthy man with leukemia has
chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant in a hospital in Metro Manila.
A one month old indigent infant in rural Zamboanga dies of pneumonia with no antibiotic
or consultation with a healthcare provider. Scientific advances to improve life are
available only to the affluent close to tertiary facilities.
Much health knowledge, generated in our schools and
places of work are not passed down the information chain and fails to impact health. Discoveries are not “translated” into the
appropriate contexts for healthcare workers, policy makers and the general
public to use.
An exception is your remarkable study on latrine use in
Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur which “translated” into something of value to the
people. More households have sanitary toilets, youth have educated community members
about diarrhea and the need for latrine use, and a barangay ordinance ensures
every household’s access to a sanitary latrine.
Many other studies produce no tangible benefit. They are
left in the archives of the institution to rot and be forgotten.
The disparities between the health service some receive
and others do not, between what is discovered and what is shared and used has
induced the premature loss of life, increased burden of disease and inadequate
access to quality healthcare. This
narrative pervades our healthcare system today and will continue tomorrow and spread
the following years if conditions persist.
As Medical professionals, doctors and public health
workers, this is an injustice we cannot allow. It is a moral imperative that triggers
our response. We must do something.
I wish I had a magic wand I could sweep across the
Philippines and provide standard updated healthcare to every Filipino and
present research findings to all the right audiences. Or I wish I were Pres
Duterte with the political will and resources to correct the myriad of complex biological,
physical, socio-economic, political and cultural forces that underlie these inequities.
Unfortunately, I have neither the magic wand nor am I the president but fortunately,
this afternoon, I have an enormous resource.
I have you, new doctors and public health professionals:
intelligent, resourceful, vibrant and hopefully ready to help.Your good work should
not end with graduation. Whatever future path you choose, practice, teaching, research or further
studies, no matter where you go; even if you are overburdened by demands of
your growing career and family, find opportunities to make a difference – maintain your idealism and dedication to better
Be vigilant not to propagate practices that further health
inequity. Avoid judging people as similar to or different from you and then dealing
with them accordingly. Stop ignoring those who appear unlike you. Instead, be with
them in solidarity, break down barriers so all are included in the delivery of
healthcare and the sharing of research results.
For instance, in providing individual healthcare, treat
all patients alike no matter if one is senile, cannot pay you, is of a
different race, belief or sexual orientation.
Live up to every patient’s trust, care for each one as a human individual
–listen, respect dignity, values and autonomous choices. Demonstrate compassion
with patient centered communication and cross cultural skills. Go beyond the physical
to the psychological, financial and spiritual dimensions of the person: consider
the particular anxieties, the costs of tests and treatments, the need to relate
to God. On a wider scale, volunteer free service for the financially
disadvantaged. Get involved in socially relevant health education campaigns and
training programs in underserved areas. Invite members of ethnic minorities to join
the health professions. Seek healthcare reform and legislation that will
provide every Filipino, young or old, rich or poor, Christian, Muslim, Buddist,
or atheist the opportunity to be as healthy as possible, to live well and be
Next, in research:
We cannot survive or prosper simply by implementing what
is already known. In order to flourish, someone has to add new discoveries – let
that someone be you! As you leave college, know that the academe has no
monopoly on knowledge production and dissemination.
Breakthroughs emerge through a combination of
serendipity, persistence, daring and collaboration. An apparently random
question or observation sets the chain of events that lead to meaningful
improvement. Keep alert for new ideas and approaches from your patients and
communities. Listen to the voice of the
underpriveledged, marginalized and underrepresented, Persist in asking
questions relevant to their needs. Overcome the 90/10 gap in research. Your
studies on female sex workers and patients living with AIDs, on Diabetes and
Hypertension in the rural areas of Zamboanga del sur are excellent examples or
targeting the underrepresented. Concentrate on more of this. Go for 50/50 in
Dare to move out of your comfort zone,
to test and find. Interact with workers outside the medical field and address
the range of determinants of health outside biology. Lately, we at the PCHRD
have been more involved with the social scientists. We encourage studies sensitive to or directly
related to the social aspects of health.
I know that the ADZU-SOM is committed to the concept of social
Withstand the pain of following the ethical
rules in research: motive for the good of humanity, harm unavoidable, minimal
and proportionate, gain for participants and community, free and informed
consent, and fair participant selection and distribution of benefits and
In reporting your research, always
apply knowledge learned to those who can benefit from it. Share findings first
with the scientific community in professional conferences.Your presentation re
Children caught in cross fire in Basilan at the PPS is an illustration. Publish
in open access journals for colleagues to read, Register in the national
research base to inform other scientists. Establish your own institutional
repository as an accessible reference library. Follow by communicating to the
public in plain language, through media. Move to drive public policy
discussion, formulation and implementation. In short, integrate science into
practice and policy.
I can go on and on and bore, maybe even insult you with suggestions
on what you can do, But I trust that the mixture of your inherent creativity,
learned academic rigour and youthful fervor can find many better ways to help
and share; to discover and apply, with deep concern for the well being of your
You have done remarkable work. Continue
to do so and expand. Never underestimate
your capacity to do tremendous good .
Contaminate others with your enthusiam, inspire with
And please, dear graduates, never stop listening and
never stop caring. The world has given you an excellent education and much more.
Reward it with the best version of what you were meant to be
Congratulations again and Maraming salamat sa inyong