How do you see yourself 5 years from now? How do you see your life after med school, after getting an MD title? Ultimately, what do you know about the life of an MD?
Before entering med school, you were a dreamer. You were in love of “medicine” as you knew it. You imagined yourself as a doctor, wearing a white coat, having a stethoscope around your neck, and going around the hospital, responding to people’s greetings “Hi, doc!”
But now that you are already studying medicine, you realize that it is not easy and it’s tougher than your expectations. You constantly remind yourself to be strong and to be motivated because this is your dream; a goal that you have, for the longest time, set yourself to achieve. You realize this is not just med school, but a training ground. Then you will take the board exams. You will pass. Now, what? After taking that Oath, do you know what is in store for you? Concentrating much of your energy in studying, have you ever wondered of the real life after getting that much-coveted MD?
As Iatros interviewed Dr. Mario R. Ver, a Diplomate of the Philippine Board of Orthopedics and an active consultant of the SLMC Institute of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, he threw a light on his life after medical school. Let us take a look at what really happens after getting out of the four corners of your classroom, through the experiences and thoughts of this great, well-known doctor.
“Being a doctor is not about the money, it’s happiness,” this is what Dr. Ver repeatedly said during the interview. Dr. Mario R. Ver finished Medicine in UERMMMC in 1989, internship and orthopedic residency at UP-PGH Department of Orthopedics and had his Fellowship Training in Orthopedics and Spine Surgery at National University Hospital, National University of Singapore. In 1992, he trained further in spine surgery as a fellow of the Metropolitan Spine Group of Hennepin County Medical Centre and Fairview Riverside Medical Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. He broke new grounds in Orthopedics in the Philippines as the pioneer of microsurgery of the spine, among all others he introduced and pioneered in the country.
Medicine was always his dream; he had always envisioned himself as a doctor, and he had much reason and determination to back it up. “I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was in first year high school. I wore braces for eight years, even when I was about to enter Medicine.” Eight years of wearing braces everyday was not easy, especially during social gatherings. “So it [Medicine] was a challenge for me; a goal that I pursued.”
Doctor Ver took BS Chemical Engineering upon entering college in UP Diliman, but after a year decided to shift to BS Zoology in his desire to get into a good medical school. When asked about what type of medical student he was, he said he was only ordinary and even joined a fraternity. His study habit? “I can join a group; I can study on my own.” Clearly, Orthopedics was Doc Ver’s first and only love (of a specialization, of course). He did not think of taking anything else. When asked about his thoughts while in the surgical room, “Well, I have to focus on what to do! It’s a passion. I enjoy surgery…It’s an everyday learning.” Yes, as a spine surgeon, he still reads books and updates himself. “Every patient is different. So you will read up. There is no stop on what you do in the pursuit of advancement in Medicine. [Medicine is] very dynamic. If you stop, you will be overtaken by your younger colleagues.” According to him, one of the reasons why he wanted to teach in SLCM is that by doing so he is forced to update himself, “You are not the only one learning. I just arrived from Chicago, from North American Spine Society. Every year I do that. I attend conventions.”
When asked how does he manages time, “Hah! I have a very poor time management.” Having a profession that demands time, he admits to have less for his family. He has a wife, his “only ex-girlfriend,” who motivated him since his 2nd year in medical school. They have a son and daughter, and have lost a child.
“In surgery, I leave the house early, [considering] the traffic now, six o’clock I’m out or earlier, almost everyday. Sometimes, even in Sundays I have to make rounds.”
“One time I was called by my daughter ‘liar liar’, [family] appointments cancelled, parent meetings not present. Sundays, habol lang ng dinner even in mass, but it’s so hard, and that’s who we [doctors] are.”
“Before, when I’m young and still starting, magpapalakas pa sa pasyente. Sunday, mag-rarounds ka talaga. But ngayon I can tell my patients, ‘please give me time, I cannot make rounds at Sunday.’”
“’Yun ngang pambawi ko, when my kids are young, every year we go out…usually during conventions. Papatayin lahat ng cellphones and everything. Because, minsan nasa abroad, tatawag pa. And I remember a time,that was holy week, I was forced to come back by one of my patients. Andun ako sa airport, papabalikin ako. ‘Yung mag ganun.”
Also, he mentioned about the inefficiency of the operating system. “Our operating system is not that efficient. Katulad kahapon, 11:00 am schedule ng surgery, I was there 10:45. Naka-cut ako 1:40 pm. Of course, in spine surgery, everything you’ll put, monitor, etc. Kaya dyan din nag-uunahan, 7:00 am, first case. ‘Yung mga bata usually nasa afternoon, gabi na mag-oopera. So how’s your quality of life? Family time?”
Regardless, his son followed his steps and is currently a 3rd year orthopedics resident at UP-PGH, planning to pursue spinal surgery like his father. For Doc Ver, he was relieved and thanked the Lord when his son decided to go into spine surgery like him. “Well, at least I’m not a bad father after all.”
We asked Doc Ver about the struggles and challenges he has faced in his career. He goes on to say that he was quite lucky to have a partner who is financially supportive in his endeavors. “Right after graduation, where are you going to get the funding? From your parents?” According to Doctor Ver, the struggle does not really end after graduation. In fact, it may only be the beginning. Nowadays, getting a good residency training of your field of choice and given stipend or salary is very difficult; let alone getting a fellowship training of your choice. He adds that it is very challenging, especially in the field of orthopedics, to do this, being one of the most sought-after fields at present. After fellowship training, getting clinic hours is also a financial matter that is worth mentioning and discussing with your family as early as now, as getting a clinic in a non-stock nonprofit hospital like SLMC is worth millions of pesos. He also goes on to discuss about HMO and its implications to the practice of Medicine.
“[The] maximum payment I can get from the HMO on average is 33 to 36,000 pesos for big ticket items, [is] deducted 27% every month. [As for the] consultation fee, if I see 10 patients a day, if they are on insurance, what do you expect, 3000 less 27% is about 2000 pesos a day, times 30 equals 60 000 a month. How old are you then?” In spite of all this, Doctor Ver emphasizes how he was fortunate that he has a partner that happened to be stable in her job while he was still starting out that he did not have to worry so much about their family’s financial stability, and parents who support him all the way.
Doctor Ver adds some additional life advice for all the ladies—“Another thing, I have been very vocal about this. Because of the length of becoming a doctor, if you don’t have a boyfriend now at this point in time, you’re in trouble. What is your social life outside medical school? Very little. So, anong chance mo magkaroon ng boyfriend? Classmate? That’s hard.”
When asked about his advice to all the medical students, “You know, it is not about the money, although unfortunately, it kicks in. It’s there, it’s reality. You have to survive. And if you want to pursue being a clinician in a top-notch medical center, you will have to invest in your education, like studying and training abroad. And after you have completed it, you can come back [to the country] and say I’m going to apply because I had the best education.” When asked if he had any regrets along the way or things he wished he could have done differently, Doc Ver says he is happy with his life and on being a doctor. He also continues on to stress that you do not, or at least you shouldn’t, get into Medicine to become rich; that if you’re in Medicine just to earn money, you have to get out now because you’re on the wrong track. Doc Ver reminds us to constantly ask ourselves—“Do I really want to be a doctor and why?”
In conclusion, Doc Ver reminds us, medical students, that in the end it is not about the money but happiness. That is the take-away message—to be happy in the field you are in, which will eventually translate into excellence and hard work. Yes, medical school is tough. Nobody graduates Medicine, gets an MD, and says that medical school was easy. However, residency training and the events in the years thereafter are far more challenging. In spite of this, medical students spend sleepless nights on their study reading up on the complexities of the human body. We have resident doctors going on days without sleep to attend to their patients. We have professors who dedicate their time and their effort to shape the minds of future doctors. Why is this so? What keeps them going during the rough times? Doc Ver claims he gets his drive from his constant desire to reach a goal, that is, becoming a great doctor someday. Medicine is a long and unwinding road, but probably one of the best parts of the ride is that along the way, we are able to touch lives. And so it is never about the money; it’s about the happiness that you get in seeing a blue-collar worker get cured for a potentially debilitating illness, an athlete get back in shape for the next game, and seeing children’s faces light up—and these, my friends, these can never be replaced by form of monetary gain. [x]