Asa Ko Makatabang?: Learning Opportunities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Asa Ko Makatabang?: Learning Opportunities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

January 19, 2022

By: Karl Gerard Reyes Crisostomo, UPCM 2023, Executive Editor of UPCM InSPIRE Magazine

As the first news of the coronavirus reaching Philippine soil started flowing in during the early months of 2020, Ianne Keziah Agripo, a then-LU4 student, felt a sense of unease and uncertainty. “We did not realize the impact of the pandemic until it hit the two-week mark, when all the classes were cancelled for a prolonged period of time,” she would later say. As soon as reality set in, she noted that there was a strong sense of helplessness. As a medical student, she felt compelled to help in whatever way she could. However, she was limited as she, much like her other classmates, was not yet a licensed physician. This was compounded by the fact that the pandemic took away opportunities for face-to-face training. However, equipped with a drive to learn and a willingness to serve, Keziah took it upon herself to find ways in the midst of a pandemic.

The first opportunity came to Keziah through one of her organizations in the UP College of Medicine, the Regionalization Student’s Organization. She was able to assist in sourcing laboratory materials for COVID-19 testing, including cryogenic vials, microcentrifuge tubes, and filtered tips, supplied to provinces to further capacitate the labs that were not as well-equipped as their urban counterparts at the start of the pandemic. “The difference at the provincial levels was the [COVID-19 RTPCR] testing. At the time, there were no testing centers, only one in Cebu and one in Davao… all the rest were in Luzon or in NCR. We were thinking of how to address and help capacitate [these hospitals] in terms of their laboratories,” she remarked. While she felt she was able to contribute to the pandemic efforts—and she was able to interact with and form connections all over the country through sourcing these materials—she often asked herself if there was more she could do to further assist in these efforts.

Another chance came from the APMC-SN and Asia eHealth Information Network, through which she was able to participate in driving advocacies digitally, particularly one for telehealth. Here, she was able to co-head an international digital health conference with Vince Tiu and Nonot Nacionales, in collaboration with Dr. Alvin Marcelo on the incorporation of hybrid care through telemedicine and the digital health strategy. When asked about her takeaway from this activity, she said “Telehealth can be used to [equip] remote areas—connect even the most specialized doctor to the most rural areas with no remote professionals.”

While many opportunities were provided in the digital landscape to integrate and innovate in the field of medicine, she found herself searching for ground-level work, where she would be able to interact with and approach patients. While she appreciated everything that she learned previously, she noted that there was a particular dimension with regards to connecting and understanding patients that was difficult to elicit in a telemedicine setting. As luck would have it, an opportunity presented itself through the pilot vaccination program that was being conducted in the LGU of Keziah’s hometown, Valencia, Bukidnon. The information and knowledge gleaned from this program would then go on to be used in vaccination programs nationwide as a means to make the existing setup more efficient. To this end, she was assigned to be part of the COVID-19 information drive that would be occurring throughout the vaccination program as various individuals waited for their turn to get vaccinated.

Valencia Mass Vaccination Center at the City Gymnasium. From left to right: Ms. Venadyl Hera Fuego, R.N., Ms. Keziah Agripo, Dr. Gretchen Dale Eduave-Abas, Hon. Policarpo Murillo IV, M.D., Dr. Rhogieh Nomus, Mr. Yobrem Silvano, R.N.

“The challenging part was how do you bridge scientific jargon to layman’s terms na kaya ma-intindihan or ma-gauge ng mga tao all about immunization… bakit safe ‘yung vaccine.” She felt it was a big responsibility for her as the knowledge that she would imbibe upon those present would also be shared with their respective families at home. “...[A]ndun na talaga ‘yung responsibility to you, na you are holding the mic, and what you are saying is what gets to the patient,” she noted. Her efforts necessitated her to clarify misconceptions regarding the vaccine, and she climbed the steep learning curve that pushed her to keep informed. Through this, however, she felt that it gave further relevance to what she had learned over the course of her medical education, giving her an opportunity to learn and teach accordingly.

While there were plenty of learning opportunities, she noted that volunteering while also pursuing her medical education was no easy task. “First and foremost, I was not living at home… kasi if volunteering, ayoko maexpose ‘yung family.” Keziah would find herself waking up as early as 5:00 a.m. before sunrise, drinking her morning coffee as well as perusing through her readings for class on that day. Afterwards, she would head early to the vaccination center to assist in the setup. Depending on whether there was a lecture or SGD in her rotation that day, she would often come earlier to attend the session in the vaccination center so as not to worry about preparations or travel time needed. The orientation and information drive would start at around 9:00 a.m., and—oftentimes, with two other volunteers—she would spend 15 to 30 minutes giving an overview of all the precautions and contraindications for vaccines in a manner that would be easily digestible to laypeople. They would also actively make an effort to clarify all the misconceptions that were often reported, along with any adverse effects that would make the daily news. Her days would often end at 5:00 p.m., after which she would get to bond with other healthcare volunteers; they would then discuss unique cases that they had all encountered over the course of the day, along with learnings that would help further enhance their approach to these patients in later sessions. On some days outside of the vaccination schedule, they would even go out to other barangays to educate.

Zone 1: Orientation Zone at Valencia City Mass Vaccination Center. From left to right: Ms.Venadyl Hera Fuego, R.N., Ms. Keziah Agripo, Mr. Yobrem Silvano, R.N.

Despite the challenges, Keziah felt the situation was ripe with many opportunities for learning. Throughout her service in the LGU, she was able to apply learnings from class and from her various SGDs when advising patients during post-vaccine monitoring, specifically regarding breastfeeding after getting vaccinated, as well as possible drug interactions with medications. She also appreciated being able to interact with various patients while also learning about their various experiences with COVID-19 that further influenced their decision to get vaccinated. Learning about various reasons for initial hesitancy such as a death in the family or a severe experience from the pandemic further motivated her to make a greater effort in learning. “...[O]nce I get to understand a patient’s story, it gets me motivated by learning more… about how to take care of them,” highlighting how medicine was not just about curing the underlying condition but ensuring the proper care and quality of life for the patient. Keziah was also provided many opportunities outside of the virtual medical setting through her various interactions with her fellow healthcare professionals. “Rapport building with colleagues and soon-to-be colleagues was very vital kasi sobrang humbling siya,” noting how they proceeded to offer her many chances to learn in a face-to-face setting. Outside of her duties in the vaccination drive, she was given the opportunity to observe and assist in a live birth, assist in blood drives, and suture in the outpatient department, among other things. She made active efforts to look for opportunities to learn, observe, and absorb information that would prove to be relevant in her future practice.

The mass vaccinations were held strong by these community doctors of Bukidnon. From left to right: Dr. Mimi Lazardo, Dr. Carren Emirose Solidor, Dr. Pat Hamilton Abella, Dr. Marlyn Valdez Agbayani, Dr. Claire Rica Ree, Dr. Gretchen Dale Eduave-Abas, Keziah Agripo, Dr. Juniver Flores.

Help, Learn, and Teach. The everyday mantra of a medical student’s daily grind.Featuring post-emergency outpatient department suturing and first blood donation drive in Valencia City since the start of the pandemic.

Through all these experiences, Keziah reaffirmed how the experience helped her develop into a six-star physician. Through learning about research opportunities in medicine in the local setting, interacting with patients, learning how to communicate adequate information for the better health of her patients, as well as working alongside other healthcare providers in a setting that fostered holistic patient care, she was able to apply theoreticals from medical school in a real life setting. Most importantly, she highlighted the importance of healthcare as a team effort, not just an individual undertaking. In fact, she noted the most important question to be asked in these moments was “asa ko makatabang: how can I help?”, a question applying not only to patients in need but also to colleagues in the field of healthcare. In the end, Keziah notes the social aspect of medicine as an important part of health, sharing the experience with the patients, their families, as well as her future colleagues in a holistic, collaborative effort. In the same way that the oft-repeated adage states how “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a community to ensure that its members are always in the best of health.