CONGRATULATIONS on achieving this monumental achievement in your life. To take this step towards becoming a physician is not only a very proud moment for you, but also for us, your parents, who have seen you grow from a helpless child, to a responsible and mature adult that you have become today.
I have always admired doctors. They seem to be “God’s little helpers on earth,” doing his work of taking care of the sick, ministering to their needs and giving them comfort in the midst of their suffering. In fact, at one point in my life, I did consider becoming a doctor and if not for reasons that are now well-known to you, I may actually have become one. Maybe in some ways, it was this dream of mine that led me to inspire you to become a physician, living my dreams for me by proxy.
But enough of my dreams. This is your moment and this is your time.
Your mom and I hope that in raising you, we have enabled you to become the man that will become the good doctor. The study of medicine, after all, is only the acquisition of a set of skills. It is only useful if those skills are passed on to a person with humility, compassion and selflessness, that they then become useful for the greater good.
Perhaps at no time than during this once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic, have these values become more visible. And perhaps at no other time also, those that are inimical to the practice of good medicine have become more apparent. Observing carefully the actions and actuations of doctors all around you during this challenging time, you can almost certainly draw your own conclusions of what it’s like to be a good and bad one.
A good doctor has principles. A bad one has excuses. So many times during this pandemic, we have seen this in action. Some, for their own good and the furtherance of their own ambitions, have deliberately twisted the truth in the service of their masters. Still others, at the risk of foregoing personal gain, have chosen to side with the truth.
A good doctor thinks about his patients. A bad one thinks always of himself. On many occasions, we have seen medical practitioners trumpet all sorts of cures for this virus, even if these were unproven and even later found out to be harmful. But we have also seen those who always exercise caution, remembering that the first principle of medicine is to “do no harm.”
But beyond the pandemic, we want you to emulate those lasting value of good healers who endured the test of time.
Remember always that “prevention is always better than cure.” But because this offers little reward to doctors, whereas the latter offers greater financial incentives, this tenet is often conveniently ignored. Ignore it, though, at your peril. For without principles, what is there that makes a person human?
And finally, never forget that a strong faith in God is the anchor by which all good doctors are finally guided. At certain points in your career, you will be tempted by the prospect of personal gain over ethics and principles. Only a strong conscience can ultimately dictate your choices and keep you on the right path. So pray to Him in everything that you do, and He will always be there to guide you.
We are proud of your accomplishments, Jake, and even prouder of the man that you have become. And we are certain that with God’s will, we will even be prouder of the physician that you are going to be.
As you take a step further into your medical education, let me leave you with a few nuggets of good old-fashioned Ignation spirituality. Always be a doctor for others. And always do everything for the greater glory of God.
Good luck, and God bless!
(This letter was written to my son Jacob, on the occasion of his coating ceremony at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, August 2020.)