The Inspiring Teacher & Mentor
The class starts and everyone is in white. The girls are in their skirts and the boys in crisp polo, the freshmen of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine sit in a room in Salcedo Hall. By the dais stands an empty faux-mahogany table and the last lecture failed to rub off completely the whiteboard. Then the professor walks in.
Like in all other classes, everyone behaves and someone wakes somebody up. The professor, a man who looks like in his early fifties (but is actually 64), smiles ear to ear adjacent sharp squinting eyes (an infectious grin somewhere between mischief and candor), wearing a bright fuchsia long-sleeves and carmine polka- dotted tie, tucked-in and belted.
Dr. Galvez Tan, in his familiar and inviting baritone, starts his lecture with the proverbial but unnecessary introduction. The students know him from peers and other professors, they heard of his intriguing story and they know that on that day, the usual descant of serving-the-country- first or realizing-the- Iskolar-ng-Bayan-privilege would resound again.
But it is different when it comes from Dok Jimmy: the banter gets a new color, more vivid and more real; the same words many have said that spun across the scratched and lazy vinyl floor of the room and similar rooms and halls of UP coalesce into something more convincing, something more empathic. There are no tirades of colonial mentality or no rants on treason, only anecdotes of experience and the enthusiasm of sharing one’s passion. His lectures either end in applause or an ovation, but always with the same grin where he started. This time, he gets the latter.
“I can still vividly recall the very first lecture-workshop he gave to our class back in 2004 where he clearly laid down the principles of traditional, community oriented, community-based and community managed health system models,” Dr. Paolo Victor N. Medina, UPCM Batch 2009 and now Municipal Health Officer of Alabat Island, Quezon, shares.
“In retrospect, that lecture changed my life and shaped my pursuit for knowledge and self-actualization throughout med school. I wasn’t aware that he was a former Secretary of the Department of Health back then. When I eventually came to learn more about his reputation and career, I knew then and there that I had a role model,” he added.
Dok Jimmy has been a Professor at the UP College of Medicine since 1998. Before that, he served as a visiting lecturer from 1975 to 1985, while working in various rural and urban areas designing and planning community-based health programs for dioceses, farmers’ groups and civil society organizations. As a visiting lecturer, he provided insights and perspectives in rural community medicine and the management of community-based health programs. Through a slide show, Dr. Jimmy shared his struggles and conflicts as a hospital-trained physician working in far-flung doctorless communities and even then, invited students to join community-based health programs after their graduation.
Earlier on, just after he graduated, Dr. Jimmy worked as an Assistant Professor in the UP Institute of Health Sciences, Research and Development Department Underboard Physician Programs in Tacloban City from 1976 to 1978. Together with its national and local team, he designed and implemented the step-ladder curriculum in producing community health workers, midwives, nurses and doctors for rural communities in the country—a revolutionary idea in medical education and an endeavor supported by the World Health Organization and the Kellogg Foundation. Coordinating with medical institutions in Samar and Leyte, he conducted special six-month training programs for under-board physicians wherein they acted as Municipal Health Officers in doctorless towns.
Apart from Medical Patriotism, Dok Jimmy also teaches traditional and complementary medicine to 6th and 7th level students as an elective; Integrative Medicine as a semestral subject in the Masters of Science in Family Medicine; and gives lectures on health management, health policy development, community-based medicine and traditional medicine in the undergraduate curriculum.
As an active faculty member, Dok Jimmy initiated medical education reforms in the UP College of Medicine (CM) curriculum with the introduction of a Community-Oriented Medical Education (COME) Program. He was Vice-Chair of the College Curriculum Committee since 2002 and a faculty advocate for gender and reproductive health.
An integral member of the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM) community, Dr. Galvez Tan has served various posts in the University including as Vice Chancellor for Research and Executive Director of the National Institutes for Health. Through these positions, he directed and managed the institution’s research endeavors from 2002-2005: initiating the participatory formulation of the University’s research agenda and that of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH), initiating electronic database management of research information and concretizing the research endowment fund for the NIH and the Philippine National Research System.
He has chaired the University External Linkages Committee and the College of Medicine External Linkages Committee from 2000 to 2002 and as part of the College of Medicine’s 100th Anniversary, organized the Centennial Colloquium of former Secretaries of Health in 2005. Beyond the University of the Philippines, Dok Jimmy has also been a lecturer in the Asian Institute of Management’s Health Care Management Program since 2001.
Twice a semester, Dr. Galvez Tan would hold a merienda cena dialogue with a score of medical students inclined to work in the community. These merienda cena has given birth to students who have become Municipal Health Officers (MHO), community oriented specialists, local and international health and development consultants and faculty of the College of Medicine.
These community doctors have since banded to form the careershealth.ph to further promote the cause to stay and work in the Philippines.
He alludes to the adage, bella esperanza de la Patria Mia. “The fair hope of the Motherland” was how the country’s most famous physician describes the youth. In his A la Juventud Filipina, Dr. Jose Rizal urges on:
(Come down with pleasing light
Of art and science to the fight,
O youth, and there untie The chains that heavy lie,
Your spirit free to blight.)
Dr. Galvez Tan knows this fully well.
The potential of the generation could not be put to waste or set aside. Great promise lies within and lies in store for the next doctors of the country. The solution to the age-old problem that millions of Filipinos face, the lack of quality healthcare service and the neglect of their fundamental right to health, lie in the next batch of scholars. Through the “art and science” of Medicine, they can “untie the chains” that have for so long been a menace.
Among his protégés are professors, policy-makers, think-tanks, development experts, researchers, politicians, professors, researchers, local and national public servants, community-oriented clinicians, technical experts and many more. These physicians are now in every part of Filipino society from the grassroots and barangays, to regional offices, NGOs, the Department of Health and other national departments and international organizations.
We were all inspired by Dr. Galvez Tan ‘s leadership and passion for service and excellence. For me, this is his best legacy. His mentorship was the force that bound us to see things that are greater and bigger, giving hope to the future of the Filipino people.
Even as a role model, JGT is not the stereotypical image of a doctor. He prefers pastels and bright colors to the starchy and rigid white of a hospital coat. He kids and jokes. He is as engaging as the next photo op organizer or the “wacky pose” initiator. He realizes that there is more to being a doctor than the sterility of scalpel blades and skin retractors—sometimes, to heal, one has to get dirty and muddy traversing rough trails.
“For many of his students, Dr. Galvez Tan has become synonymous with public health and community medicine, which is actually not far from the truth. It is difficult to not be inspired by the man whose kilometric list of achievements is perhaps only outmatched by the gratitude of the people whose lives he has touched along the way. And yet, despite his many successes, he remains humble and unassuming, still fresh and eager with new ideas to help improve the country’s health care system,” Dr. Rene Andrew A. Bucu, UPCM Batch 2008 now with UNICEF, shared.
A true visionary and outstanding leader in his field, Doc Jimmy has worked tirelessly in his personal mission to improve the health outcomes of his countrymen in the Philippines. By his example, Doc Jimmy has inspired and will no doubt continue to inspire more people to take up his cause in working towards health for all Filipinos.
From his young career up to now, he has been a champion of the Filipino masses – serving in rural communities, advocating for the health rights of indigenous people and advancing the cause of universal health care for all Filipinos, I have witnessed first-hand how Doc Jimmy has cared for and molded young minds like mine into being the best person that we could be. He has not only showed me the importance of medical knowledge but also how to genuinely look after the well-being of another person and of the community as a whole.
Dok Jimmy continues what he has long started and with the years that he has invested, and continue to invest, in molding the next leaders of community health. Like that lecture that among many he gave at Salcedo Hall, among the young faces oblivious to what is ahead but expectant of the challenges and opportunities, among futures colleagues and the next great doctors of the country, Dr. Galvez Tan echoes the beacon-call that centuries ago was cried:
¡Alza tu tersa frente,
juventud filipina, en este día!
tu rica gallardía!