UP Manila College of Medicine and DOST – PCHRD Welcomes 12th Batch of MD-PhD in Molecular Medicine Scholars

The 12
th Batch of the MD-PhD in Molecular Medicine scholars signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the University of the Philippines – Manila College of Medicine (UP - Manila CM) and the Department of Science and Technology with the Philippine Council of Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) last 31 August, 2021. The MOA not only guarantees free tuition fees and other research and school related fees for the double doctorate scholars but also provides them assistance beyond the eight (8) year program, such as the Career Incentive Program and backing as they submit research to international peer-reviewed journals.

Perfect Combination

The MD-PhD Molecular Medicine program jointly offered by UP – Manila CM and DOST-PCHRD is the only one of its kind in the Philippines which combines clinical medicine and research disciplines. It was first offered in 2010 and has been nurturing hundreds of doctor-scientists ever since.

“Recognizing the vital role of research in patient care and finding clinical cures for diseases have always been a formidable combination. Neither field is more dominant, but one reinforces the other,” UP – Manila Chancellor Carmencita Padilla says of the program.

As of 2021, DOST-PCHRD has been monitoring 94 scholars, 21 of whom have already graduated, some even ahead of the program’s eight-year residency. Some of the graduates of the MD-PhD program already worked in labs and hospitals that directly deal with the COVID-19 virus as translational researchers or as part of COVID-19 testing and response teams.

Reality Bites

All the dignitaries in the signing expressed their gratitude to the scholars for fearlessly pursuing the program, but equally stressed the need for more doctor-scientists in the country.

The Dean of UP – Manila CM, Dr. Charlotte Chiong shared that the Philippines used to donate vaccines to China in the early 20th century but now has to be at the mercy of vaccine manufacturers and be at the receiving end of vaccine producers. Still, she adds that to augment the country’s creation of the Virology Institute of the Philippines, UP – Manila CM, with the help of DOST-PCHRD, is pursuing translational research programs that will prepare the University to respond and contribute to the country’s aspirations to revive its vaccine manufacturing and resiliency efforts.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Dr. Coraline Therese Dimacali, Associate Dean for Academic Development of the UP – Manila CM, acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has given MD-PhD students the privilege to practice their craft early and that they were able to contribute to the betterment of the country no matter how small. “But remember, to whom much is given, much is expected, and with great power comes great responsibility,” she reminds the bunsos of the double doctorate program.

Dean Chiong adds that the scholars are also expected to sally forth with a sense of patriotism. “Physician-scientists with nationalist fervor spell relevance to what our country direly needs to be able to accomplish what UP CM’s Lady Med embodies, and that is ‘Triumph over Death,’” Dean Chiong stated.

In keeping with the superhero reference, Dr. Montoya dubbed not only the new batch of future doctor-scientists but their ates and kuyas in the field ‘Mikrobyo Warriors’: an allusion to the nature of microbes as workers that remain unseen but are essential in sustaining every living being on the planet. But the Council communicated its willingness to take on the challenge to be more aggressive in making researchers and their work more visible so that they could inspire more people to become microbiologists and boost the country’s capabilities in responding to the country’s healthcare needs.

Pride and Joy

DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña was also present during the event.

It has been a long time since the Secretary de la Peña attended a MOA signing for the MD-PhD program. “The last one I attended was in 2014,” he confessed, and so attending the event was a happy moment for him. The Secretary was candid in welcoming the new batch. “I wish you all the best of luck as you pursue this daunting yet rewarding path in biomedical research IN THE NEXT EIGHT YEARS,” the Secretary stressed and chuckled. “Be ready to spend and be happy while you are in the MD-PhD program,” he said. However, before leaving the meeting, he did express his admiration for all the scholars who took on the challenge and that he boasts of the program whenever he could. “I am very proud of this program wherever I go, whether it is in the region, in ASEAN, the Asia Pacific, or in the international community. Let us create a name for the MD-PhD program of the Philippines, of the University of the Philippines – Manila, with the aid and support from the Department of Science and Technology.”

This year, the MD-PhD in Molecular Medicine program welcomed seven (7) aspiring doctor-scientists, namely: Mark Joseph Remucal from UP – Baguio; Renne Margarette Alcazar, Junelle Rey Bacong, Robbi Miguel Falcon, and Justin Guda from UP – Diliman;  Charlene Divine Catral from UP – Manila; and Nhel John Capistrano from UP – Los Baños.