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By Dr. Rene D. Huinda, RMT, MD, MBA, FPCP, FACP

“The New Realities of a World Changed by the Pandemic: How Graduates Should Prepare to Face the Future with Hope and New Mindset”

My Warmest Greetings to Everyone:

“SOMEONE IS SITTING IN THE SHADE TODAY because somebody planted a tree a long time ago”. These words from the famous philanthropist Warren Buffet remain both meaningful and relevant in today’s world.

I AM HERE TODAY BECAUSE SOMEBODY TAUGHT, nurtured and believed in me and in my God given talents and skills. In the same light, you are all here young graduates because many remarkable people have paved the way for making this important day possible.

WE MARK THIS DAY AS AN IMPORTANT MILESTONE in your young life. A new page has been turned, as you step into the precipice of the future. It’s not a distant, far-out reality difficult to imagine. But one that is more defined and one that you can see more clearly in the horizon. It begins here. It begins today.

I AM DEEPLY HONORED AND TRULY HUMBLED for this kind invitation as your guest speaker for this year after the most challenging period in our recent history. Indeed, the Covid-19 Pandemic has changed all of us, our viewpoints, our priorities, our relationships and how we interact with each other, our values and definitely our world. We have seen how everything had to take a pause after a frenzy of technological advances and new developments happening before our very own eyes. The world seemed to be spinning so fast that we ourselves can hardly cope in its dizzying speed. People are moving in a rat race that had most of us somehow lost our social, moral and spiritual grounding and had to embrace how the new world order re-define humanity and how it is to be human using the new lens of the time. The Covid-19 pandemic has put on hold all these rapidly emerging new realities. Whether it is for our own good or ultimately for the good of human race, only time can tell.

I MYSELF EXPERIENCED ITS EFFECT ON A PERSONAL NOTE when my flight back from Tolouse, France had to be re-routed because if I pass by Taipeh then I had to undergo facility quarantine upon my arrival in Manila. That was the start of nearly 3 years of travel restrictions, not to mention the longest lockdown in the world that our government had to impose on us. But eventually, I had to comply to a two-week required quarantine as I was in Manila for a VISA interview when the whole country was placed on a national lockdown. On my part, it was a time for self-reflection after more than 20 years of a life that revolved around clinics, hospital administration functions and medical conferences and conventions. For the first time I had long idle-hours, that after few days I felt bored staying inside my room. Then I started to work-on the Covid-19 Preparedness Operational Plan for the Province of Capiz and the City of Roxas. It’s like doing a thesis in less than 2 weeks-time. Now I fully understand why the Lord brought me in the area of planning and administration which I thought was a distraction from my daily routine as medical practitioner, for I am always a clinician at heart.

THE FIRST REPORTED DEATHS IN MY PROVINCE was my patient, a married couple who traveled from the U.S., Dubai and Manila and with their son who luckily survived. The 3 of them were supposed to see me in my clinic on that fateful day, but by God’s divine intervention, I was able to get hold of the digital X-ray image before they came for a clinic visit, which saved me from being the 4th index case in the city. A combination of antimalarial treatment regimen had been repurposed as initial treatment for Covid-19 infection. Was this Science or a movie inspired therapeutics? With nothing to give, the medical community had to resort to pseudoscience so that we could not be accused of doing nothing. The whole world most especially the medical community was caught flat footed. That was my first time too, to handle a new disease that nobody can fully understand: its pathogenesis, much so its treatment. After these mortalities, doctors were so afraid to manage Covid-19 cases. I can count with my fingers those who were willing to attend to the initial patients in our Covid-19 wards. How is it different from soldiers running away from the battlefront because they are afraid to die in the battlefield?

UNLUCKILY, I GOT EXPOSED WHILE ATTENDING a joint session for the City and Provincial Preparedness Plan meeting where I was asked to be a resource person. I was one of the 4 other doctors who became Covid-19 positive, but thankfully, we were asymptomatic. The 2 week quarantine gave me more time to complete 8 modular courses on preparedness, facility planning and implementation of a pandemic response and recovery plan initiated by the World Health Organization outreach learning program, even a completed an on-line Contact Tracing Course Certificate from the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Together with the local Medical Society, we were instrumental in implementing a one hospital system in the province of Capiz to attend to Covid-19 cases where we brought together private and government hospitals under a one-command system. I was also a volunteer facility administrator for the City extension facility for Covid-19 cases in times of pandemic surges. If not for this, we would have seen more deaths lining outside of our hospital emergency rooms and in their homes without the benefit of a much needed hospital care.

LAST SEPTEMBER 26, 2021, I became very sick myself. While I was being driven in haste, I thought I would not make it before reaching the hospital. For the first time, I had IV line and was hooked to an oxygen tank. Uncertain of my prognosis during the time of the
Delta-variant pandemic, I appraised my family about worst-case scenario. From a clinician to a patient, that was a 180 degree turn of event, which opened my eyes to my own vulnerabilities. For somebody who at times would play “god”, I became an ordinary mortal just like the patients that we serve in their sick or even death beds. We can go on and on, our narratives would have similar storylines. Only one thing is certain, we live in a time that is like no other, unprecedented, life-changing, tragically for some, life-ending.

FOR STUDENTS LIKE YOU, it would have been the worst time for learning. While on-line studies have given you the convenience of home without the trappings of well-styled uniforms or fashion dresses in going to school, it has robbed you of learning in the bedside, where clinical skills is best taught and honing your craft is best mastered . No amount of reading and use of practice device can substitute to actual learning from an alive, breathing, moving, complaining human subject, we call patients. As one who oversees hospital operations, the next challenge for us, is how to put in place training programs before healthcare frontlines who have limited clinical training will be allowed to do their clinical work on actual patients on their own without close monitoring and supervision. This includes doctors in training too, who have limited exposure to real patients. As we all know, there is no such thing as textbook patients. They come in different sizes, colors, shapes, attitudes, sensibilities, temperaments, notwithstanding their differences in anatomy, physiology, biochemical and genetic make-up. After this Pandemic, we face another health crisis for lack of health care professionals especially nurses.

INDEED, ALL OF US GIVEN THE CHANCE will have a lot to share and many things to tell the future generations how this pandemic has changed our world and how challenging life has really been during that time. But we are all so blessed to be given the opportunity to be here and share this special moment with our graduates today. The gift of life and the gift of person remain our most valuable attributes that we never come to appreciate profoundly until we reach the point of almost losing them.

OUR EXPERIENCES ARE NOTHING COMPARED to the dark ages or the horrors of world wars and more deadly pandemics in the past. As Martin Luther once said, “Darkness cannot drive darkness; only light can do that”. Indeed hope is the brightest star, in the darkest night. Hope is the one thing that helps us get through the most difficult times. As Dr. King had once spoken in a crowd like this one, if you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk…then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to move forward”. In times of adversities, we have nothing but hope. Indeed, only in darkness can you see the stars at their brightest.

EVERY YEAR WE HONOR GRADUATES FOR A JOB WELL DONE. And we salute parents who equally deserve the same honor. But before I am lost into the message of this speech, let me take this opportunity to pay tribute without which this very day would not have come, the members of the faculty of the College of Laboratory Science of Central Philippine University. These graduates have not come this far without your deep and selfless dedication and passion for teaching. I have been a teacher myself, so I truly know how it is to be one. Remember that your sacrifices did not go in vain. Today, you see the fruit of your labor – the product of your seemingly unrequited toil of bringing the best for these young graduates of 2022. I share with the parents and the graduates in expressing our deepest gratitude to you all. Can we request our faculty members to please rise to be recognized, and can we give them a round of applause.

YOUNG GRADUATES, I SAT ONCE, just like you today, listening but not fully grasping what the speaker was talking about. Listening to moving and inspiring exhortations but not fully comprehending what is being conveyed. Simply put, he is boring and irrelevant. You will rather share text messages. But I have to do this important task I am assigned today. And bear with me for next few more minutes. I am here to inspire you to dream big, work hard and be not afraid to explore the complex world outside and be the best that YOU CAN BE, no matter how and no matter what that world will be like, pre-pandemic, pandemic or post-pandemic.

STANDING HERE BEFORE YOU TODAY, given that utmost honor and accolade, is a rare opportunity indeed, a once in a lifetime invitation. I believe that while success is measured in many ways, the greatest achievement any person can have is to be a true inspiration to others. People see their own lives as stories; a lifelong story with himself as the hero and the story as the backdrop of his greatness. But I tell you, the real message lies not in the person’s personal triumph but how the time tested virtues and imbibed values transformed that life to be emulated by others.

BUT FOR THE MOST PART WE LIVE TODAY, in a culture so engrossed with all-consuming present, where young people cannot live without their smart phones, without Facebook, without you tube, or Netflix, or Tiktok, a virtual world where everything is less personal and made worse by mandatory wearing of mask during this pandemic. Just like most of what the world offers, technology and the social media can be both good and bad for us. It is always how we use them. At the end of the day, it is our choice that will make it either good or bad.

For young people like you, brace yourself for a world more complex and challenging. Our generation might have paved for it to be the way it is now, permissive, too protective to a fault, overly tolerant and extremely inclusive. Where is the world going, when everything is veiled, vague and amorphous? We have ridiculed the absolute and made everything relative. And I would like to echo a prayer by a politician-pastor who asked guidance for the world’s transgressions. According to him, we have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values, scorned the absolute truth of the Word and called it pluralistic views, worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism, we endorsed perversion and called it alternative lifestyle, exploited the poor and called it lottery, rewarded laziness and called it welfare, killed our unborn and called it choice, shot abortionist and called it justifiable, neglected discipline of our children and called it building self-esteem, abused power and called it politics, embezzled public funds and called it essential expenses, institutionalized bribery and called it sweets of office, coveted our neighbor’s possession and called it ambition, polluted the world with pornography and profanity and called it freedom of expression. We have mocked the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment. For my generation and your parent’s generation, the world then is less complex, black is black and white is white, it is never gray.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, LET ME SPEAK TO YOU IN THE FIELD I am familiar most, Medicine, and how that long and winding journey began. More than 3 decades ago, I was seated just like you and was truly inspired by a celebrated physician who shared his life and sacrifices before he became a renowned specialist. I was profoundly touched by his message that since that time on I started to dream of becoming a doctor. To some people here and some relatives, it sounded overly ambitious or if not totally impossible. But young graduates, I assure you, dreams can be realized even how impossible it may seem to others. Work hard, stay focused, don’t give up, believe in yourself and believe in the Divine Providence and the world will be opened to you and to your dreams. I earned my degree the hard way. But that is beside the point. For I believe that the price of success is measured by our own will and courage, our persistence even in the face of adversity. The difficult road for me to success is truly a literal walk as I remembered it vividly, a nine kilometer trek going home and going back every weekend sometimes in the harshest of weathers and the worst of the road conditions to get my weekly allowance and supplies at a tender age when most of you were probably preoccupied by playing games. Undaunted I worked real hard because I know how it is to be poor. This was a real story that some of you might share with me. Being poor is not an insurmountable obstacle for success. Rather it is a compelling reason for us to work our best and change ourselves and our world.

WE DOCTORS WERE NURTURED IN THE LONG HOURS AND SLEEPLESS NIGHTS and were trained to imbibe virtues of discipline, hard work and dedication, develop skills and expertise for the most demanding of all professions, where errors are unacceptable – because it deals with human life. Sadly though, we cannot demand a commensurate fee for the hard work we have to put in, for it was established as a vocation before it became a profession. So this is not for those who yearn for wealth as their ultimate goal in life. Real wealth for us is the countless number of patients who get well and whose pain and sufferings are alleviated by the art and science of Medicine. I am proud to belong to a profession, though sometimes misunderstood, for always we are there to bind wounds, to restore sight and hearing, fix broken bones and many other sacrifices in the service of humanity. But mind you, the doctor despite his expertise is not god. He is not a magician as well. And we should not see him, despite his good intensions and expertise as God or magician, because simply, he is not. While it is only the Divine who gives and takes away life, truly only physicians see the kaleidoscopic spectacle of life from cradle to grave, but also as an active, caring advocate of life. No profession has seen births and deaths in all its variations as physicians do in their lifetime. Over the centuries, the medical profession has earned respect not by edicts or legislations but by track record of good service. Thus despite new realities eroding the image of the good physician, he remains the most trusted professional today. Words from the late Dr. H.B. Calleja, one the pillars of Cardiology in the Philippines

I WOULD LIKE TO PICTURE A LABORATORY SCIENTIST IN THE SAME LIGHT. And if some of you become inspired by my message and decide to pursue medicine, our country and the world need more of you to become one. You have the best preparation to pursue that profession.

GRADUATES, BEFORE I END, ALLOW ME TO GIVE YOU A PIECE OF MY MIND AS I AM TASKED TO DO IT TODAY. As I echo three recommendations of a renowned speaker I do subscribe to these as my guideposts in life:

FIRST, COMMIT YOURSELVES TO EXCELLENCE IN WHATEVER YOU DO, BIG OR SMALL. Excellence is not synonymous with perfection. Things will not always turn out to be perfect, but we can be excellent in many ways. A little thing is truly a small thing, but doing the little things well is a big thing. And that is the real essence of Excellence.

SECOND, COMMIT YOURSELVES TO CHARACTER. Character has something to do with the principles you live your life. Integrity, the courage to do what is right whether it is popular or not or somebody is watching or not, is the kind of character we need today. We face new and greater challenges in today’s world. Our spiraling problems of economic decline and moral decay are growing each day. We cannot run away from these. You will be faced with many choices in your life, many of them difficult, which will test you and test your character.

THIRD, COMMIT YOURSELVES TO SERVICE. I completely believe that success is not measured by what you get out of life but by what you give back to life. To make the very most out of life and the opportunities you have been given, you too must rise to your responsibility to your country and your fellowmen. When you turn your success into an opportunity for others, then you have lived your life in full.

WHEN I WAS STARTING TO CONCEPTUALIZE on what to talk about this afternoon, many of my good friends warned me to deal more on the superficial and avoid seemingly profound exhortations as they might simply fly above your heads, but will it not have wasted this rare opportunity to touch one, two or even more and be inspired to take the initial steps into a world out there exciting and full of promise for those willing to work hard and persevere. Remember that every work we do is a self-portrait of ourselves. So we should autograph our work with excellence.

THE WORLD OUT THERE IS BIG AND WONDERFUL AND EXCITING and it is your time to step into it. I ask of you to hold onto your diplomas and aspire to be better and take them into the world always hopeful. Commit yourselves to a life of excellence, character and noble service.

DEAR YOUNG GRADUATES, THE FUTURE IS TODAY. For parents and mentors, we are looking with deep fulfillment and pride at what was once the future – that child has grown, and today he or she will be honored for a job well done.

MY DEAR YOUNG GRADUATES, as you go out of your alma mater, dream bigger and higher and aim to become larger than your dreams.

GOOD AFTERNOON AND CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL.

 

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