Friday, March 21, 2014

Three Things a Former Secretary of Health Taught Me

The Dr. Alfred Bengzon, the former Secretary of Health now the CEO of Medical City, met to welcome us in the Medical City family. He shared his insights and thoughts in his 5 decades of being a medical professional. In our meeting, I learned three things from him:

1.       “Doctor’s should go beyond medicine” 
2.       “Heroes can come from the government”
3.       “Patients are partners”

I appreciated that Dr. Bengzon opened our meeting with a prayer from Bishop Desmond Tutu. He said it was something that he wants to be done in all other meetings. We were off to a good start.

The first thought that really had a big message for me was when Dr. Bengzon shared how he was able to appreciate being a doctor by going beyond the scope of medicine. He shared his story how a doctor like him ended up being a manager and taking an Master’s in Business Administration in Ateneo. But that “deviation” from the field of medicine allowed him to have a wider perspective and appreciation of medicine.  He was resolute to tell us that doctors must not only know medicine. He asked me who I was and what’s special about me and I told him that I am a doctor and a physician – the wholistic approach to medicine in person. Our talk turned to spirituality and I was impressed by his wide knowledge of the subject. He talked about Mitch Albom and his books and offered some of his insights on the topic of spirituality. He asked about how a loving God would allow unrepentant people to go to hell. He left it for us to theologize on it. He admonished the other doctors to also read Albom’s “Tuesday’s with Morrie” and not just be limited to their Schwartz, Harrison’s or del Mundo’s. He reminded us that doctors will be able to appreciate medicine better if they know other than medicine.

The second thing I learned from the good doctor is that heroes can still come from the government sector. The recent current events and forever have focused on how government officials and their cohorts have been stealing the people’s money. The inefficiency and ineptitude of the government to address the country’s problem has been an acceptable fact for many. But Dr. Bengzon told the story of an underpaid midwife in the mountainous typhoon-zone part of northern Luzon and her dedication to uplifting the health condition of her community. The midwife would travel on foot for several hours climbing mountains and crossing rivers just to be able to deliver vaccines for the children. Not even her surgical operation that required her to rest could stop her from performing her duty. It was no wonder that she died in the line of duty because she drowned when she was caught by a flashflood while crossing the river one stormy season. Some people in the government are still doing their best to improve the health condition of others. There are still heroes in the government. The field of medicine is like that – sacrificing more of ourselves for the health of others. Medicine is service oriented. He reminded us to help the government in serving the people because anybody can be a hero even in their own little way.

The third lesson I learned from Dr. Bengzon is in looking at the patient as partners in health. This concept has been taught to me in my residency training as a medical doctor and was not something new. But the experience and the examples he gave made it real and practical. It was no longer just a concept. He shared how one of his protégé applied the concept that patient are partners through the design of his clinic. The clinic did not have the traditional doctor’s table where the doctor sat on one side and the patient on the other side while the medical consult is ongoing. Rather, the clinic only had a couch and a center table. The doctor and the patient sat in the same couch to emphasize that the doctor-patient relationship was a partnership. The clinic structure allows the patient to look at the doctor at eye level and sit shoulder to shoulder to emphasize that both of them works in partnership and has equal role in the patient’s health. Dr. Bengzon reminded us how doctors love to go ego-tripping and that this culture must come to a stop. He challenged us new doctors that in our practice, we will treat our patients as partners who must also be given the responsibility and control of their own health.

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