Passing It On: Inside the Medical Academe with Dra. Chona Araga-Velasco

WRITTEN BY JASMINE ONG
EDITED BY SOPHIE MAITLAND-SMITH
GRAPHICS BY ALIE SANTANA

It takes nine long years of learning—both inside and outside the classroom—to become a licensed doctor in the Philippines. Within those 3,285 days, an aspiring doctor is bound to encounter compelling experiences, earn dazzling accolades, and, of course, look failure directly in the eye. Despite these challenges, (and take it from a Doctor of Medicine working in the academe):

“Just go for it. Don’t be scared of failure. If you fail, get back up again because we are not perfect; we have failures but we still have to go on.” 

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT!

  • Medicine is undoubtedly a challenging discipline, but always make sure to find motivation in the opportunities present on your journey in order to finish what you’ve started.
  • Women are just as capable as men—no ifs or buts. The incredible women in the STEM workforce prove this every day. Those who have adopted outdated mindsets may think otherwise, but proving them wrong only adds to the list of reasons why women should pursue a career in STEM.
  • The pride and joy of educators is imparting their hard-earned knowledge upon those who would greatly benefit from it. We should express our appreciation for those working in the academe as they have had to quickly adapt to online learning methods during the pandemic.
  • Believe in yourself. You are not perfect, but you are capable of so much. You are especially capable of bouncing back and learning from failures, so be determined and find ways to use setbacks to your advantage so you can make your dreams a reality.

Dra. Chona Araga-Velasco is the Vice President of the Philippine Society of Anatomists. She works in the medical academe focusing on anatomy and physiology for undergraduates, and histology for medical students. Though she is not a practicing doctor, she greatly contributes to her field via the eye-opening lessons she imparts upon her students.

On her nine-year journey

Medicine is a broad discipline, so it is only natural to take a few missteps when choosing a specialization—Dra. Chona is no stranger to this.

Initially, Dra. Chona was drawn to surgery; obstetrics and pediatrics also sounded appealing to her. However, because of uncontrollable work hours, isolated duties, and unpleasant incidents, she decided to cross these specializations off her list. Amid her search for a medical specialty, Dra. Chona was invited by her medical school to join the faculty of its anatomy department, which needed all the help it could get at a time of booming demand for physical therapy. There, Dra. Chona found her true calling.

As might be expected, she also had her fair share of nadirs as a hopeful doctor. During Dra. Chona’s time as an intern, she felt a buildup of toxicity that tempted her to leave and perhaps even start her own business. However, sometimes you look so far ahead you don’t notice how far you’ve already come. Thus, Dra. Chona decided to finish what she started and continued on along her path. 

The setbacks that come with becoming a Doctor of Medicine are near-insurmountable when faced alone. Thus, Dra. Chona is especially thankful to her family—her parents and late grandmother—for providing financial aid and moral support alongside empowering her with the final push she needed to finish medical school. She also extends this gratitude to her students, whose appreciation and encouragement further motivated her to realize her goal.

On being a woman in medicine

“Gender has no correlation either in medical performance or teaching”, says Dra. Chona. Being a woman played no role in her achieving her dreams, for anything men can do, so can women.

Sadly, she has experienced gender-based discrimination in the workplace in the form of male residents being favored over women due to the (outdated) belief that men are stronger and better decision makers. However, no such advantage exists. Through their everyday successes, Dra. Chona and her peers, such as the skilled surgeon Dra. Marisa Fernandez, prove that women are just as competent as their male counterparts.

Amidst the innumerable stereotypes present in the medical field alongside the challenges faced particularly by women in medicine, Dra. Chona gives us a glimmer of hope:

“You should have the determination to pursue your dream because you won’t be able to achieve it if you will not work for it.”

She encourages women who aspire to become doctors to pursue their dreams relentlessly and resiliently, and she emboldens them to study hard to not only prove that women are more than capable of becoming excellent physicians but also to be immersed in one of the most difficult yet enriching career paths.

On where she is now

For Dra. Chona, one of the most rewarding parts of being a doctor in the academe is seeing her students flourish in their chosen fields of study. A teacher through and through, Dra. Chona wishes only for her students to become successful doctors, as well as inspire undergraduates to pursue careers in the medical academe. She takes pride in teaching ambitious top-notchers in medical school and being a guiding light along their exciting  journeys.

Dra. Chona is also grateful for being able to put her experience in the medical field to good use by sharing her wisdom with her neophyte students. She happily passes on her knowledge gathered from years of clerkships, internships, and hospital rotations in the hope that her learnings may help them on their own unique voyages into the world of medicine.

These days, you can find Dra. Chona applying her newly-acquired video-recording and Zoom skills when presenting for online classes. She also enjoys watching Korean dramas and  brushing up on her medical knowledge by reading books on histology and neuroanatomy.

For those interested in her line of work, Dra. Chona recommends Kenhub on Youtube and the website Lecturio for resources about medicine and anatomy. Additionally, undergraduate students may find Essentials of Anatomy and Physiology by Seeley and Marieb helpful. 

Conclusion

The path to becoming a doctor is, without a doubt, a long and winding one. Unfortunately, some individuals in the medical field still harbor damaging gender-based misconceptions and stereotypes; however, it is important to remember that earning an MD is possible with resiliency and hard work—regardless of one’s gender. 

No matter what field you would like to pursue, be it a different branch of medicine or academic research, always keep these four pieces of advice close to heart: remember why you started when things get rough, find support and motivation from those around you, be determined to achieve your dreams, and put your knowledge to good use by passing it on to those who need it. 

Do not let the fear of failure hinder you from becoming who you want to be; instead, reflect on your opportunities to learn and grow, and let them motivate you to keep going—you have already gone so far, and you are capable of going even farther.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s