Finding Strength in Research: The Dr. Evangeline Olivar Santos Memorial Award
October 17, 2021
By Patricia Therese de Claro, UPCM 2024
Research has become increasingly important in our society today. From COVID-19 vaccine development to point-of-care tests before prescribing antibiotics, research provides evidence for medical practitioners to make judicious clinical decisions and provide quality healthcare. Medicine is indeed advancing so quickly, heightening the challenge to stay updated with guidelines and procedures, among many other aspects in this field.
Back in a time when research was still starting out with modern advancements, Dr. Evangeline Olivar Santos already found her passion in research. She filled her life with this purpose, from holding positions in various organizations, to spearheading national programs in ophthalmology. With her unfortunate passing last year, her classmates in the UP College of Medicine Class of 1965 set out to keep her legacy alive through the creation of a namesake award for pioneering individuals in research.
Even after retirement, Dr. Santos continued to play an active role in the field of medical research. With over 50 years of research experience to her name, she became a mentor to students, residents, and fellows in community ophthalmology. Photo from UPManilaChannel [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbxexofGyPg&t=17s].
Dr. Santos’ Early Life and Education
Dr. Santos was the eldest of 9 children of a government employee and a teacher. At the age of 3, she contracted tuberculosis of the spine which progressed to a back deformity that other children teased her about. Nevertheless, she persevered to excel in school to pursue a medical degree. Despite her family’s financial status, her parents were adamant to send her to medical school. However, the young Dr. Santos promised to help send her brothers and sisters to school when she finished her medical degree.
When she graduated from the UP College of Medicine, Dr. Santos was accepted as a research fellow, and later, as a resident in the Department of Ophthalmology of the Philippine General Hospital – an unpopular field at the time. She joined the Philippine Eye Research Institute (PERI) when she was forced to stop her residency training due to a recurrence of her illness. Despite not finishing formal residency training, Dr. Santos practiced ophthalmology through various provincial missions and out-of-hospital teach-ins. Through her perseverance, she was certified by the Philippine Board of Ophthalmology and even became a board examiner later on in her career.
In her simple and humble ways, Dr. Santos was spiritual, compassionate, and trustworthy. Former UPCM Dean Cecil Tomas, a colleague of Dr. Santos, shares that she was also selfless, caring, responsible, and “generous to a fault” – always concerned for the well-being of her family, friends, and classmates. Dr. Santos possessed many hobbies as well, such as gardening, watercolor painting, and singing.
Dr. Santos was a lifelong learner, finishing her Masters in Hospital Administration at the UP College of Public Health in 1981 and receiving a Diploma in Community Ophthalmology at the University of London International Center for Eye Health in 1984. She also received a UP-Fogarty scholarship for a Diploma in Bioethics in 2003. Dr. Santos was also very nationalistic, service-oriented, and committed to democracy. She took a stand for the principles and ideas she believed in that became issues of her time, most especially academic freedom.
Dr. Santos in Research and Medical Service
As a researcher, Dr. Santos was competent and committed to serve. She was a PERI University Researcher from 1966-2007, Assistant Director from 1986-1988, and Clinical Associate Professor of the Department of Ophthalmology until her retirement in 2006. Even after, she regularly attended conferences and mentored students, residents, and fellows in community ophthalmology. She served as Chair of the UPCM Ethics Review Board from 2005-2011 and remained a member until 2020. Dr. Santos was in two committees of the Philippine Health Research Board (PHREB) and was Founding Chair of the National Committee for Sight Preservation and Eye Care Program Consultant for Helen Keller International and Christoffel-Blindenmission (Christian Blind Mission).
Few ophthalmologists practiced in the provinces during the 1970s; patients usually had to travel to Manila for treatment. Dr. Santos saw the need for an ophthalmologist in Batac City where there was a high incidence of blindness. Selfless and generous as she was, Dr. Santos bought instruments with her own funds and visited Ilocos Norte regularly to see patients. In 1982, Dr. Santos proposed a modified residency training program that would train ophthalmologists in provinces, who would then serve for six years. As Former UPCM Dean Cecil Tomas shares, “This was probably the greatest service she did – the training of selected ophthalmologists in various regions.” In 1990, DOH appointed Dr. Santos as its Technical Consultant for the Prevention of Blindness Program where she conducted the National Blindness Survey with a community approach. In 2004, she was awarded the “Dangal ng Bayan'' by the Philippine Civil Service Commission and the “Outstanding Alumna in Community Service” in 2005 by the UP Medical Alumni Society.
With the recently approved “Dr. Evangeline Olivar Santos Memorial Award,” the legacy of Dr. Santos shall remain forever etched in the stones of time. Photo from UPManilaChannel [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbxexofGyPg&t=17s].
Research in the UPCM Setting
Dr. Santos was one of the few medical students interested in research during her time. Slowly, however, as research evolved, UPCM students also became more interested in the field. However, Dr. Jacinto Blas Mantaring shares that currently, there are few research opportunities available to students save for the IDC 211 projects with limited funding. Research grants for the faculty are provided by the University, College, and NIH depending on the availability of funds.
Research is introduced formally in the UPCM curriculum as IDC courses from Learning Unit 3 to Learning Unit 6, as well as in select courses like Pharmacology. Dr. Mantaring also mentioned that when students start to rotate in the clinical departments, application of the principles of evidence-based medicine are integrated into journal clubs.
Dr. Mantaring suggested improvements in students’ interest in research by endorsing dual degree programs in the college such as the MD-PhD and MD-MCE (Masters in Clinical Epidemiology) degrees, the latter currently being finalized. Another strategy that Dr. Mantaring suggested is to increase available funding for student-initiated research or provide incentives for students’ research to be published or presented internationally. UPCM students would also benefit from more role models among the faculty, so they can be encouraged to join faculty research as assistants or observers; role models like Dr. Evangeline Olivar Santos who relentlessly fought to integrate research into her life as a student, as well as in her medical practice.
The Dr. Evangeline Olivar Santos Memorial Award
The award was recently approved this 2021 with funding coming from the UPCM Class 1965 Trust Fund. When asked about the inspiration behind this award, Former UPCM Dean Cecil Tomas mentioned, “The entire life of Dr. Evangeline Olivar Santos was a commitment to the betterment of her countrymen by reducing blindness in the underserved areas and by helping provide trained ophthalmologists in these areas.” This commitment to her goals was paralleled by her professionalism; she did not let her physical deformity hinder her from becoming a competent researcher and ophthalmologist. As Former Dean Tomas said, “She stood as tall as or taller than the other delegates and speakers and she was very much respected and admired by her colleagues.” Despite limited resources, her perseverance in preventing blindness and the success of her programs showed that much can be done with the purest intentions.
The UPCM Class of 1965 was greatly saddened by Dr. Santos’ sudden death on November 13, 2020. She was well loved and greatly admired by her classmates. They wished to honor her memory with a research award in the UPCM in her name. Her classmates, along with other alumni and friends, donated to the award fund deposited in the UPMASA Perpetual Endowment Fund, and thus, this accolade was born.
Guidelines for the Awards
There are two awards available, one for the students and one for the faculty of UPCM. The award for Best Student Research Paper motivates students to pursue high-impact research work for publishing in peer-reviewed international and local journals, while the award for Meritorious Publications in Peer-Reviewed Journals encourages the faculty to publish their work in indexed peer-reviewed journals that adhere to high standards of scholarship.
The UPCM Research Implementation and Development Office (RIDO), under the Associate Dean for Research, shall evaluate award applications. The following criteria will be considered for Best Student Research Paper entries: significance of the research, methodologic rigor, and plans for dissemination and publication. Similarly, the Award for Meritorious Publications in Peer-Reviewed Journals will be judged based on its publication in a PubMed-indexed or Scopus-indexed journal, publication in a Web of Science indexed journal, and its impact factor. The research paper must also be registered in the UPCM RIDO, technically and ethically approved by UPM Research Ethics Board, and registered in UPM Research Grants Administration Office.
The Best Student Research Paper Award shall be granted to one student per year, and the grantee will receive $500.00. On the other hand, the Award for Meritorious Publications shall be granted to two clinical faculty members per year, the awardees each receiving $550.00.
A call to action
Dr. Evangeline Olivar Santos was definitely no stranger to research, and her many accomplishments in ophthalmology serve as an important reminder to UPCM students that anything can be achieved despite obstacles and perceived difficulties.
Evidence-based medicine can be used for clinical practice, developing guidelines and policies, and writing research proposals. We must find ways to entice UPCM students to pursue research in medical school and in their professional careers. Without researchers, there would be no innovations and improvements to the medical field. Thus, we must add focus to research, as it is a necessary skill and discipline that makes a UPCM graduate a holistic, six-star physician. Hopefully, with improvements in the curriculum and an increase of funding towards research, UPCM can produce more research-oriented students and faculty, and reach its fullest potential in contributing to the development of medicine, especially in the national setting.