COLUMN:  ATENEO  PUTS  UP  SCHOOL  OF  MEDICINE  AND  PUBLIC  HEALTH

MANILA
, MARCH 30, 2007
 (STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - Last Saturday, I attended the groundbreaking rites for the building that will house the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health at the Meralco compound in Ortigas. While it was easy to dismiss it as just one of those pipe dreams when I first heard about this plan 10 years ago, I knew it would be realized sooner than later because it had Dr. Alran Bengzon as its principal backer.

Putting up a medical school is not that difficult if all you really want is a diploma mill producing "doctors". Even computer schools are able to get government permission to put up medical schools these days. While one of these schools ended up buying a private hospital, the other has convinced CHED that their virtual laboratories would do just as well. I guess it would be less messy doing an anatomy class on a virtual cadaver but I wonder if that will do.

Anyway, it is a different situation for Ateneo. It has a name to protect. If it decides to put up a medical school, it must be only to make a difference. Otherwise, why bother? Fr. Ben Nebres said as much in his remarks last Saturday. It took a lot of hard work putting things together before they came to the point when the Ateneo board of trustees could say, letís go on with it.

They got this far because of Alran Bengzon. I first met Dr. Bengzon while I was writing a column for Malaya during the Cory years and he was Secretary of Health. For some reason, he was able to convince me to wake up at an ungodly hour to meet him at Villamor Air Base for a helicopter ride to the Quezon-Camarines Norte boundary. I recall that he wanted to check how to deliver services to communities along the Bicol railroad tracks.

It became clear to me that here is one public official who gets into the thick of things, thinks out of the box in getting service to the people and manages a tight ship. Dr. Bengzon is a conceptual thinker, a rarity among todayís public officials. He goes into the roots of the problem and thinks out a solution that would address short and long term demands. He looks like a tough boss to have but thatís precisely what any bureaucracy, public or private, needs.

For a while I thought he would become Tita Coryís Executive Secretary, given that MalacaŮang at that time needed a tough boss to get things in order. He ended up instead, heading the Philippine negotiating panel with the Americans on the matter of what to do with the bases. From what I heard, he was a tough negotiator who had only the interest of the Filipino people at heart. A politician would have sold us down the drain, as a young aspiring politician in MalacaŮang tried to do from the sidelines, to Dr. Bengzonís dismay.

Leaving government didnít diminish the fire in Dr. Bengzonís belly. He had a handful of dreams yet. Running a world class hospital is one of those dreams and Alran soon realized that with the new Medical City. He had also been working closely with Ateneo, in fact is the vice president of its Professional Schools, and the medical school is at the top of his to-do list.

Dr. Bengzon said he had in mind a medical school geared not only toward training a physician who applies himself to the handling of sick individuals, but one that shapes a physician "to understand the interplay between health and disease of individuals on the one hand, and those of communities on the other. So that this doctor must be both clinician and public health specialist."

Okay... that public health thrust caught my attention if only because I grew up with my father, who had an advanced degree in public health, telling me what we need in our developing country, is a focus on public health.

I donít know if the future graduates of Ateneoís medical school will be able to see themselves as more than specialist doctors for the rich urban areas or worse, as rich doctors in a first world country. The elitist ring of the Ateneo name does not leave much comfort.

So itís important they have the right frame of mind. Even now here in Metro Manila, I get the impression that the best doctors no longer have the inclination nor the time to spend to get to know their patients or even to explain the nature of their diseases and treatment procedures. I miss the doctors of my fatherís generation, who didnít put return on investment as their primary concern.

This is why I think there is promise in Alranís latest dream come true. Working on the basis of Ateneoís "man for others" philosophy, Alran wants to train his doctors not just in the science of medicine but as my father also used to say, in its art... looking at patients not as cases but as people with feelings. And you start by making sure Ateneoís young medical students have the proper mindset, they must have the right reason for wanting to be doctors.

"Most of us attribute poor health outcomes to material poverty," Alran said during the groundbreaking last week. "But learning from the countryís dismal experience in health, it is time to recognize that poverty of the mind may be more devastating than that of the pocketbook. So therefore, if we are going to improve health outcomes which are the result of behavior as influenced by feelings, we must begin with solid belief and proper understanding."

What we need, according to Dr. Bengzon, is an institution of learning to assume the leadership for re-shaping and re-directing manís understanding and behavior about health. "This," Dr. Bengzon said, "describes the heart and soul from which the ASMPH dream sprung."

He declared "there is no school like ours in the Philippines. And our research shows no such model anywhere in the world exists that has brought together as ASMPH does, a seamless continuum of learning for which a student earns three degrees ó a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences after the first four pre-professional years and degrees in Doctor of Medicine and Master in Management at the end of the fifth professional years. All these, using knowledge, leadership formation and application as threads with which to weave this tapestry."

But he asked, "for such a compelling dream, why then has it taken so long for ASMPH to take off?"

He explained: "Dreaming a dream is easy. Living it out is the test of both its validity as well as the character of those who dare dream. Living out the ASMPH dream required kindred spirits, defined as those who have a healthy degree of discontent about health, life and country and in search of a better way for all those things. Kindred spirits are important to give flesh to the dream and to sustain one another through the highs and lows that any venture is heir to."

In ASMPHís case, he said "we did not lose heart and we have prevailed. So that in less than three months from today, on June 18, 2007, we will begin classes for our pioneering batch of students who will be using a completely functional anatomy laboratory even as the rest of the building moves towards completion."

Dr. Alran Bengzon must be around 69 years old now but he continues to dream like a 25-year old. Maybe it is what drives him, gets his juices flowing. The thought occurred to me that we need someone like him to lead the country... some of the best heads of states were doctors. But I guess the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health should keep him busy for a while.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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