(Speech delivered after the Holy Spirit Mass of the Angelicum School Iloilo)

Medical Center Chief of Western Visayas Medical Center

First and foremost, I appreciate this invitation from Fr. Paul Reagan Talavera, OP, thru Miss Rory Arenas, the former Miss Angelicum 1983.  To the facilitators and staff of Angelicum School and of course, to the parents who are present here, thank you for the invitation.

It was in 2004 graduation ceremony that I was here as the commencement speaker. Today, I am here again to be the commencement speaker.  Since commencement means “the time when something begins.” I was told by Rory that I will talk about my Angelicum Experience, how the system helped me in my career and how it molded me to become what I am today. I will not talk about our “kadungulan” during our time, but, the knowledge and values we had learned from the system.

To give you a broader picture about me, I will just give you a background about myself. (2 hours). I am the youngest of five siblings (three girls and two boys). My father was a government employee and a part-time teacher while my mother was a full-time teacher. When I was one year old, I was afflicted with Poliomyelitis. When my mother brought me to the hospital, the nurse declared me as DOA (dead on arrival). My mother did not easily give up, but, went to the doctors’ quarters and literally dragged the doctor to the emergency room. I was resuscitated, but with right-sided paralysis. I survived. When my mother told me of that story, it was then that I decided to become a doctor to be able to help others to live. Ever since in elementary at Central Philippine University (CPU), my ambition in life that was written in the year book until college was “To be a successful doctor”.

My physical defect did not stop me from joining some physical activities. During my elementary days, I played football and when I was in high school, table tennis. As an independent student under the Angelicum System, I learned to compete not with my classmates, but, against myself. Learners learned that competition is within their selves, and that their capabilities were not measured by others.  We learned by asking yourself  “why.”  We were given certain skills to finish at a certain time, and when we have accomplished the skills way ahead, then we had more time to review for our other subjects. We did finish our skills on time, but, what was important was what we have learned upon accomplishing the skills and their applications. The non-graded system, learners’ academic achievements are not measured by grades or by any numerical equivalents but, by the level of mastery the learners have achieved in a given set of skills.

This is a non-graded system, and all of you will graduate as Valedictorians. I had high grades when I applied at the West Visayas State University and was placed in Section 1, with my classmates being salutatorians and valedictorians from other schools. But, I was not insecure, because as an independent student of Angelicum School, I knew I had an advantage. We all read the same books. I survived.

The open-classroom system in Angelicum helped us make more friends in school and, of course, we were able to see our “crushes”. It was also of one way of training us with our concentration on a subject matter discussed, even when the other classes were noisy. I only had reached my 2nd Year BS Biology at WVSU, because of some financial problems. My brother had to enroll first. I worked for 2 years as a merchandiser of a company, specifically the Surf Laundry Soap. We did bonding with our products. When my brother graduated, I transferred to CPU to take up Medical Technology. But, the Dean of CPU discouraged me because he said it would take me 3 years to finish, however if I continued my BS BIO it would only take me 2 years.

I took the National Medical Admission Test (NMAT), and only 3 passed the exam from CPU. I did not apply to other medical schools, only at WVSU-COM, since it was subsidized by the government and the tuition fee was less. I was not accepted in the College of Medicine; my next plan was to enter the seminary… joke.

Luckily, I was accepted at WVSU-COM, but the problem did not end there. My mother at that time was sickly and my father had just retired from the government service and that was when the financial problem came in. I was able to buy only two second-hand books and the rest were photo-copied. Many times I would stay at the library during break hours. I survived. But, these days, students carry their tablets, iPads and CP’s.

During the internship, my plan was to be a Cardiologist, however, during my rotation in the Department of Surgery, I was amazed of the skills of the surgeons that I had assisted and was inspired to become one.

After passing the board exam, which was announced on my birthday, I was hired as a Medical Health Officer in Dueñas for a month. Then, I worked as a contractual doctor at the Iloilo City Health Center for 2 years. Since, I wanted to become a surgeon, I went looking for a hospital which could hone my skills and offer a big salary. I heard that there was an opening in the Bacolod Doctors Hospital and I worked there for a year. The program in the hospital was not accredited by the Philippine College of Surgeons. I applied at WVMC, only to be rejected, since, the training officer at that time once said, “How can he survive with only one foot?” The following year, I applied again and once more was rejected.  I did not give up easily.  The following year, I applied again; this time the training officer was Dr. Max Nadala, and he was one of the surgeons who I assisted during my internship and encouraged me to become a surgeon. There were only plantilla (permanent position) and there were only three of us as applicants. We took the exams and underwent interview, but at the end of the day, Dr. Max Nadala informed me that the decision on who would be chosen depended on the decision of the Chief of the Medical Center.  The next day, I was called to report and was told that I was not hired for a plantilla position, but, instead was offered fellowship training without pay. I accepted the offer since I wanted to be trained at the West Visayas Medical Center.  When I was already a fourth year resident, I was browsing some documents. I discovered the results of the entrance examination and interview; I was actually number one in the list. I did not complain.

During my residency training in surgery, I represented WVMC in a Research Study Contest.  I got the first prize defeating all the residency trainees all over the Philippines. Yes, I was given recognition by WVMC; the one they rejected , and yet, has given honor to the institution. And now the rejected one is the head of the institution. That is why, all the applicants during my term, will be given the chance to prove themselves worth for the position as long as they are qualified.  After finishing my training in surgery, I worked at Salazar Memorial Hospital in Antique, and was also studying for my Specialty Board Examination.  Fortunately, I passed the written and oral examinations and was conferred as a Fellow of Philippine College of Surgeons. I stayed for a year and a half in Antique and decided to transfer here in Iloilo.  I heard that there was an opening as Medical Specialist at DISMMCEH.  I applied for the position and I was accepted in 2003. When the former chief director was transferred to Mindanao last 2006, I was assigned as the OIC until 2014, when I was given the Chief of Hospital plantilla. In 2016, the Medical Center Chief of WVMC retired and I also applied. It took almost a year for me to be appointed due to political problems.

Before my appointment, there were some personalities who did not want me to be the next MCC for whatever reasons they had. They even said “Ambisyosongapiang.”  They thought that they had friends; what they did not know was that, I had many good friends.

I am the Medical Center Chief  II at WVMC for four months now, and the Department of Health has many plans for the hospital. We are now on our way of creating a Heart Institute and Cancer Center probably within the year. A new infrastructure is in its planning stage which will be competitive with other private hospitals with the state of the art equipment for the benefit of our indigent/ poor patients.

I had met and worked with some alumni of Angelicum School and they, too, are successful in their chosen careers. For you, students of the Angelicum System, take pride of our school wherever you are. Grab the opportunity to train yourself to be independent on your studies. There are many trials and tribulations on your way to success. But, always believe in yourself and pray to God for guidance.

There are only three things that I want you to remember in order to be successful: 1) Persevere – let your goal or vision in life be your guide, and whatever obstacle you encounter take it as a challenge to improve yourself; 2) Practice what you learn – apply the principles you have learned in your daily life activities. Practice makes perfect; and 3) Pray – always ask God’s guidance, your plan may be different from God’s plan.

Time is an essence in our life, we cannot turn back the time. It is now time for you to decide, on who you want to be in the future. I appreciate the time you had given me. It is time for me to go. And I thank you for your time.

By Joseph Dean L. Nicolo, MD, FPCS, FPSGS, MPA

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