Med to Lead: The Makings of a Medical Student Leader in the Time of a Pandemic

Med to Lead: The Makings of a Medical Student Leader in the Time of a Pandemic

November 17, 2021

By Kariza Abu, Class 2024

You were going about your typical everyday routine when your professor suddenly announced on Zoom that you will have a group presentation the next day. You view your class Telegram chat to see that your liaison officer is looking for representatives to lead their respective groups. You think to yourself, “Oh, someone else will probably volunteer,” and go on with your day of studying for your exams and assessments.

Most medical students are boxed in the academic aspect of our education. We bury ourselves in books, transes, and lectures, and we often forget that as future medical professionals, we also need certain skills that can only be honed through experience. While it may be daunting to most, taking up small opportunities to lead is a key skill. Now more than ever, student leaders are playing a big role in guiding the student body through the pandemic.

Leadership in the Medicine Student Council

The transition to an online setting was made possible through the efforts of our hardworking administration, faculty, staff, as well as our student leaders who worked behind the scenes to greatly contribute to student welfare during this pandemic. A notable leader at this time was Danee Mangila, UP Medicine Student Council (MSC) Chairperson for academic years 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. She had the feat of easing the transition to online learning for students when the pandemic struck. Prior to the pandemic, most of the projects organized by the MSC were geared towards unifying the student body through creating activities to help students unwind from academic requirements and initiating academic projects to help enhance our learning. The council’s priority then drastically shifted to addressing student needs to make sure that no student gets left behind. Various needs such as course packs, data allowances, laptop loans, and financial aid arose because of the online set-up. According to Danee, what helped her and the council overcome these challenges was proper communication with all the stakeholders involved, including the administration, the class presidents, the faculty, and the staff.

Being a medical student is already filled with many growing pains, but Danee was inspired to step up to this immense role because she believes that being a leader is the best way to hone her skills and values outside of academics. She also found this to be a great opportunity to help others. She shares, “Our profession is more than being a clinician. In one way or another, we will also function as leaders at the different levels and stages in our career. We will be leaders of our blocks, our residency batch, our clinics, our RHUs, or even our own hospitals. The challenges and learnings from leadership experiences help us improve and grow holistically.”

Back during COVID-19’s onset, then-UP Medicine Student Council Chairperson Danee Mangila steered the student council to shift gears towards aiding those students most vulnerable to the pandemic. Being at the helm of such a daunting task, she seized this opportunity to both maximize her own skills while exerting her best to help those in need.

Leadership in Organizations, Fraternities, and Sororities

Equally important in helping UPCM students adapt to the pandemic are the student leaders of organizations, fraternities, and sororities (OFS). Six OFS presidents shared their insights regarding how it is like to lead an organization in the time of COVID-19: Iya de Claro, editor-in-chief of UP Medics; Mica Gonzales, Most Exalted Sister of the Mu Sigma Phi Sorority; Matt Hernandez, Most Exalted Brother of the Mu Sigma Phi Fraternity; Aya Dicali, chairperson of the Regionalization Students Organization (RSO); Lara Castillo, Superior Sister Exemplar of the Phi Lambda Delta Sorority; Allen Lichauco, Superior Exemplar of the Phi Kappa Mu Fraternity; and Joana Cruz, president of the UP Physician-Scientists Association (PSA).

All student leaders expressed the challenge of transitioning on-campus projects to the online setting without losing its intended goals and objectives. They shared their different approaches to overcoming this problem. Similar to Danee’s response, Joana, Matt and Lara emphasized on communication being essential in maintaining the bond between members in their respective groups. By constantly checking up on their constituents, they were able to keep their organization active and purposeful. Iya, on the other hand, became more hands on with tasks by continuously following up on her members to keep them involved during the pandemic. As for Mica, she focused more on the underlying organizational aspect of leadership. She says that the key to overcoming hurdles is the willingness to reevaluate existing systems and having the flexibility to make day-to-day changes until a good balance of output and member welfare is attained.

Facing the challenge of transitioning her sorority into a pandemic setup, Lara Castillo, Superior Sister Exemplar of the Phi Lambda Delta Sorority, deemed it essential to first check up on the welfare of her constituents. Doing so was the initial step to invigorating the sorority to pursue their purpose and stay true to their values.

Recognizing the importance of maintaining the bond between its members, Aya Dicali, President of the Regionalization Students Organization, notes how leading the organization during the pandemic entails coming up with ways to adequately simulate the spirit of being an Igsuon online, as these values are often best showin in person.

Why aspire to be a student leader?

There are countless reasons for becoming a student leader, and these are brought together by the intention to serve. Iya shares that as an ambitious person, she had always wanted to become the president of an OFS since LU2. Allen notes that watching those who came before him serve also spurred him to follow in their example. Mica, on the other hand, says that her own growth in her sorority brought out her desire to have others have the same empowering experience.

In an organization, motivation comes from peers too, as Joana found her calling when her friends encouraged her to run for president. In the same way, Lara shares that her love for her sisses and the advocacies they share with each other are what pushed her to step up and take on a leadership role in her sorority. This is similar to Allen who was also inspired by his brods’ desire to serve, lead, and excel in their respective pursuits.

Why is it so important for medical students to take charge? Akin to Danee’s response, Iya seconds that learnings from today’s leadership experiences seep into tomorrow’s professional life. Mica’s perspective further builds on this concept: the day-to-day tasks of an organization leader help students develop quick-thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to navigate through the nuances of team communication, integral skills in becoming an effective six-star physician upon graduation. Allen adds that leadership also teaches us the value of accountability, which is indispensable as a future health professional. As Lara puts it, “Leadership is the sine qua non of being a good healthcare professional.” Leadership, however, is not only for personal growth. Joana shares that being a leader allows one to influence others, learn from them, and collaborate with them. Matt highlights how being exposed to an environment that nurtured leadership qualities, as well as being a part of the executive council for the previous years, drove him to also take charge and inspire future generations to be leaders in their own right. With these viewpoints in mind, leadership is a skill to be gained, one that simply cannot be learned inside the classroom.

For Mica Gonzales, Most Exalted Sister of the Mu Sigma Phi Sorority, the often routine tasks of being a leader are long-term investments for becoming an effective six-star physician. Quick-thinking, problem-solving, and fostering healthy communication among team members are a few of the essential skills that build effective healthcare professionals once they leave the halls of medical school.

Allen Lichauco, Superior Exemplar of the Phi Kappa Mu Fraternity, views leadership as an opportunity to practice accountability of one’s actions. This is especially essential as the actions of healthcare professionals could spell the difference between the life and death of a patient.

According to Joana Cruz, president of the UP Physician-Scientists Association, aspiring to be a leader is not always confined to seeking personal growth. Leadership also entails fostering a healthy and empowering team spirit that brings about the growth of everyone involved.

What makes a great leader?
The path of a great leader is not without the tough balancing act of managing academics and extracurricular life. Now, especially, leading entails a careful consideration of how the activities will fit into the virtual setup. Aya remarks that fostering bonds has become more challenging, not just in the absence of face-to-face interactions, but also under looming duress of zoom fatigue. These responsibilities are juggled with personal struggles, which Aya describes as "another barrier we have to overcome."

The consensus among the student leaders is that knowing how to prioritize is key. Holistic leaders are able to make time for things that are most important to them, while still being able to serve in their organizations. Allen notes how, much like in tackling medical problems, the priority lies in the most pressing concern at the moment. However, there will always be difficult times when all priorities seem to be of primary importance; thus, it is also necessary for leaders to know when to ask for help. Lara shares, “leadership entails the humility to acknowledge one’s limitations and mistakes, openness to take accountability, and acceptance of criticism without pride.” Being a leader does not mean that one has to do everything alone. Knowing how to collaborate and delegate tasks to others is equally a form of good leadership. Matt also highlights the importance of being able to maintain a sense of accountability, while also keeping an open mind as some of the core qualities of a good leader.

After hearing of these astounding leaders in our midst, one may probably wonder, “Am I qualified enough to be a leader?” The answer is yes. Each student is capable of being a captain of their own ship. Mica brings clarity to this dilemma by sharing that all medical students already have an edge thanks to our training with systems-based thinking and our approach to problem identification and solving. In having one’s own vision and opinions, Joana emphasizes the importance of acting on these viewpoints, listening to one’s constituents, and being open to opportunities for change especially in times of crisis. At the core of this is the willingness to learn and serve. Iya imparts that this can sometimes be a thankless task, but being a great medical student leader is about heeding the call towards a greater good, not just for the sake of being in power. Perhaps a relevant introspection is to turn the tides from “Why?” to “Why not?” and from “Not me!” to “If not me, then who?”

Matt Hernandez, Most Exalted Brother of the Mu Sigma Phi Fraternity, highlights how being exposed to an environment that nurtured leadership qualities, as well as being a part of their executive council for the previous years, drove him to also take charge and pay it forward by inspiring future generations to be leaders in their own right.

Iya de Claro aspired to become a president of an OFS since she was in LU2. Now, as the Editor-in-chief of UP Medics, she traces this ambition to her core of being willing to learn and to serve. It’s not about merely amassing power; it’s about using that power for the benefit of the greater community.

The Role of Student Leaders in Nation Building

The upcoming election is pivotal for the nation’s future. Filipinos deserve competent candidates to preside over the country. Within our microcosm of a nation in school, proficient organizational student leaders can rally their fellow students to evoke change, especially with how the pandemic is being handled. Using the platforms available to them, medical student leaders are called to speak up and be the voice of future medical professionals. As Mica mentions, “Nation-building starts with Filipinos who are well-informed and aware of the steps needed to move forward as a nation and can decide properly with whom in the government those steps can be taken.” By educating our fellow Filipinos, medical students can help others empower themselves to make an informed decision to make the possibility of quality and effective healthcare a reality.

Equipped with this knowledge, one may be daunted by the enormity of the roles and responsibilities that come with leadership. However, leadership does not always have to start with grandiosity. Each person comes with their own story, from humble beginnings to new heights achieved as a leader. The next time someone asks for a member to step up in your group, take the chance. You’ll never know if you’re made for it if you don’t try.