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March is National Women’s Month!

I went to a meeting at the UP NIH last week where I saw a banner proclaiming National Women’s Month. On Facebook, I saw a short video of Emma Watson inviting everyone to her live Facebook Q and A last Sunday. But I must admit I was still surprised when I saw #IWD15 popping all over my Twitter feed yesterday. So I’m writing this post on Filipino women in medicine. It was inspired by this post on www.filipiknow.net9 Kickass Women in Philippine History You’ve Never Heard Of, which mentions several women in medicine. I’ve added two more to the list.

  1. Dr. Olivia Salamanca. Second Filipina to become a physician after Dr. Honoria Acosta-Sison. They both graduated from the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia.
  2. Maria Ylagan Orosa. The first Filipino nutritionist who invented the banana ketchup
  3. Dr. Fe Del Mundo. First woman to be admitted to Harvard Medical School in 1936, first woman National Scientist of the Philippines in 1980, and founder of the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. More about this amazing woman here.
  4. Dr. Flora M. Pascasio. A prolific researcher, she contributed more than a hundred publications in endocrinology, nuclear medicine and genetics.
  5. Dr. Perla Santos Ocampo. Pediatrician and former Chancellor of the University of Philippines (UP) Manila. Among her many accomplishments, she founded the National Telehealth Center and created an Information Technology complex at the Philippine General Hospital. I remember with fondness that she would ask the class she was teaching at the UP College of Medicine, if any of them were her “babies.” I was one of many who raised my hand as my mom had brought me to her a few times as a baby; she was my pediatrician.


Let me share a few vignettes about two women endocrinologists I admire very much and from whom I’ve been privileged to learn endocrinology:

1. Dr. Mary Anne Lim Abrahan

The original endocrine witch?! She was my ward consultant as an internal medicine resident. She had an uncanny ability to sense when we were unprepared for rounds. On the day that we knew by heart all the endocrine cases on our ward service, she said, “I think we’ve had enough of endocrinology. Let’s look at your hematology cases.” On hearing a student say “The patient is a diagnosed case of aplastic anemia admitted for blood transfusion,” she turned to me as the senior resident and asked, “Is that how you take a history?” I swear my blood curdled on the spot!  She was going on rounds with the endocrine fellows at the ICU one time and I was the resident on duty. She asked me to join their rounds, at which she asked, “How much does the pituitary gland weigh?” All present had to say what they thought it weighed. I can’t recall what I said but she quipped, “Iris, that’s the weight of the pituitary of a bird!” I remember wishing for the earth to open up and swallow me whole. She wanted us to be very careful with our terms. I and O was NOT Input and Output but Intake and Output. Woe to the student who makes that mistake! And if you ordered NSS 1 li x 8 h, it better reflect that in the I and O sheet or you had some explaining to do. She gave quizzes as ward consultant. She asked us to draw our favorite anti-TB medicine. You will melt under her gaze if you are unable to. How dare you prescribe something and you don’t know what it looks like? Is it a round tablet or a capsule? If she asks why patients do not like taking PTU, you better know the answer. Or else she will let you taste PTU (which is bitter), so you’ll never forget.

2. Dr. Frances Lina Lantion Ang

She taught me to do a very thorough endocrine PE. As a medical student, I was observing her do a foot examination. I don’t know what my face looked like but she said, “You seem afraid to touch the foot. Come here and examine it with me.” As endocrine fellows, it was a joy to watch her at the General Endocrine clinic. She would ask us to draw an outline on paper of the hands of our patients with acromegaly at each follow-up. With such a simple maneuver, it was possible to see improvement with the hand size shrinking over time. Like Dr. Abrahan, she emphasized using proper terms. It is NEVER rescue insulin but supplemental insulin. No self-respecting endocrinologist would need to give rescue insulin. A good endocrinologist anticipates insulin requirements. I also learned from her that we should always “hustle” for the patient. As an endocrine fellow, I was co-managing a patient with thyrotoxic paralysis. A serum potassium was ordered. In the usual scheme of things, the internal medicine resident follows up the serum potassium level results. The resident might even delegate this to the medical student in charge. I informed Dr. Lantion Ang of the patient by phone. She was surprised that I didn’t even know WHEN the potassium results would come out. She told me, run up to the lab now. Tell them we need that potassium ASAP. I will wait by the phone until you call me with the result. Needless to say, we got that result pronto!

It’s not too late to write this post. According to the Philippine Commission on Women, the whole month of March is National Women’s Month with the theme –

Juana, desisyon mo ay mahalaga sa kinabukasan ng bawat isa, ikaw na!

Roughly translated, it means a woman’s decisions are important and have an impact on everyone’s future.

Happy National Women’s Month!



1 thought on “March is National Women’s Month!”

  1. Jennifer Pascasio-Jacobsen

    Dr Flora Pascasio was my tita…my father’s sibling. It is nice to know that even decades after she passed on, she is still recognized in her field. As a result of her status in the field, a lot of my relatives pursued medicine, including my sister who also went to UP College of Med.

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