Medical board topnotcher from Ilocos hopes to serve with ‘greater empathy’ to patients
LAOAG CITY, Ilocos Norte—For Aira Cassandra Suguitan Castro, a doctor’s empathy when serving their patients could go a long way.
However, treating patients, understanding their illnesses, and knowing how it affects their feelings presented a real challenge for her, especially during her internship at a public hospital in Ilocos Norte.
The 25-year-old Castro, who is a graduate of Mariano Marcos State University-College of Medicine (MMSU-COM) in Batac City, topped the March 2023 board exams for doctors with a grade of 89 percent. The results were released on Thursday, March 16.
“Kasi being a doctor, hindi mo lang naman ginagamot ‘yung patient. Of course you have also to listen kung ano ba talagang nararamdaman ng patient, how the disease process affects the feelings of the patients,” Castro, who hails from Laoag CIty, told the Inquirer in a virtual interview.
When she started her internship in the middle of the pandemic at the state-run Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital (MMMH) in Batac, she said one of the challenges she faced was how to respond empathetically to patients, given the limited amount of time and the overflowing number of patients who needed to be seen daily at the clinics.
“If you want to be empathetic, you have to listen to the patients and yung amount of time na ginugol sa bawat patient is talagang kulang siya to achieve that level of involvement with patients,” she said.
With a lack of time during consultations amid the volume of patients in public hospitals, Castro said it “translates to poorer quality of involvement with the patient.”
In several studies published in medical journals, empathy of doctors with patients has been associated with “fewer medical errors, better patient outcomes and more satisfied patients.”
But given the health landscape in the Philippines, Castro sees this as a challenge as she vowed to serve her patients with more empathy during her practice.
She said that there have been continuous efforts in facilities to improve interactions with patients, from the time they enter the hospital until the consultation ends.
Castro also rallied for greater health accessibility through online consultation and scheduling and to “decongest” hospital clinics.
During their batch’s post-graduate internship commencement rites last year, she asked her batchmates to “be doctors who are part of the equation, who are part of the solution.”
“Let us be doctors not only for individual patients but for our whole community, working hand-in-hand with them to achieve what is right, what is beneficial, and what is just. Only in this way, can we say that our debt is fully paid; only in this way can we say that our lives are truly changed,” Castro told her batchmates.
‘Give back through teaching’
A hospital residency, a usual step on the career path of doctors, is not Castro’s priority for now.
After passing, she said it was her immediate plan to teach and be part of the academic community at least for a year “to help train the younger generation of Ilocos Norte doctors.” It was also her way of giving back to the provincial government for granting her a scholarship during her medical studies.
She plans to take up her pathology residency after a year of teaching at the MMMH&MC.
Known for her brilliance from her grade school years to medical school, Castro said that she was not a “crammer” with her studies. She noted that she would read her lessons in advance based on the class syllabus.
“I don’t have a specific schedule to follow, basta whatever the lesson we will have, ‘yun na po yung babasahin ko,” she shared.
Castro made history as the first homegrown medicine graduate from the newly established MMSU in Ilocos Norte who ranked first in the board examinations.
MMSU, which opened its doors to Ilocano students in 2015 to address the scarcity of doctors in the province, has consistently obtained a 100-passing rate at the medical board exams ever since.
When asked whether another homegrown medicine graduate could top the board exams, she proudly said that it would be possible. “If you really want to, if you have the passion for it. Anything is possible,” she said. INQ
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