A DIFFERENT DRUM
Dr. Malaya Santos
Dr. Malaya Pimentel-Santos is a long-time community health advocate, having worked with several nongovernment health organizations. She is a fellow of the Philippine Dermatological Society and a professor of microbiology at the St. Luke’s College of Medicine.
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I started writing A Different Drum in 2011. Back then, it was published twice a month in the health newspaper Vital Signs. A website and online version were later added, and from 2016 onwards the column became part of Health and Lifestyle magazine.
To this day, every deadline is a struggle that alternates between procrastination and the quest for that inspired – though often elusive – flurry of creativity. Despite the difficulties, I am happy to have a collection of over fifty essays on a wide range of topics, from mental health and skin cancer to chronic kidney disease and the effects of traffic on health.
Every subject was carefully chosen, with the aim of presenting scientific evidence, as well as my own personal thoughts and reflections. Across the different topics, the unifying theme has always been to highlight the impact of social inequity on health, and to advocate for justice, equity, and the needs of the medically underserved. Somewhere along the way I also managed to toss in a few travel features.
My next goal moving forward is to share this collection with an even broader audience by publishing it in book form, as an anthology. I am delighted that other partners in the academic and literary community have agreed to collaborate with me by providing illustrations, supplemental articles, research, and graphics design. Their valuable contributions will undoubtedly add breadth to the work by providing varied perspectives and added insights on contemporary health-related issues.
The road less traveled
Over the past two decades, my career has not exactly followed the conventional path. Rather than focusing on clinical medicine, I have worked instead in various areas of public health, with both government and non-government organizations, at different levels of health care. I have experienced grassroots level organizing and capability-building; providing sustainable medical services to children in urban poor communities; working with local government and the Department of Health on health policy, health promotion and good governance for health.
Family influence and Igorot heritage (Ibaloi on my mother’s side and Kankanaey on my father’s side) have played a big part in guiding this journey. Many family members and continuing role models are engaged in education and development work in various capacities in many areas in the Cordilleras where geography, poverty, discrimination and exploitation remain as major barriers to health access and progress.
In recent years I have embraced my work in the academe, together with the paradigm of life-long learning. I truly treasure the priceless privilege of being able to help mold and nurture the minds of our future physicians, together with the other unique opportunities granted to those of us who have willingly taken on the often-arduous task of medical education.
Hand in hand with this privilege is the ongoing challenge of how to successfully integrate the formation of ethics, values and attitudes into the curriculum. Alongside all the content that is taught in medical school, it is equally critical to emphasize the importance of ideals such as honor, integrity, professionalism, and socio-civic responsibility.
This also serves as a reminder of our broader goal as educators: to help prepare future physicians to address the existing social realities by becoming not only excellent clinicians, but also outstanding teachers, managers, researchers and social advocates.
Printing the anthology
Publishing a book is an entirely new and exciting undertaking. I am enormously grateful for the support given by my mentors and colleagues: Dean Susan Nagtalon and Dr. Bernie Laya of St. Luke’s College of Medicine, Dr. Rafael Castillo of FAME Publishing and Editor-in-Chief of Health and Lifestyle, the SLCM Iatros, and Ms. Teng Nagtalon. I also extend my greatest appreciation to my family: Mike, Kyla and Joey, who have all at some point or other, acceded to my many requests for ideas and input, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning.
When I am asked about the title of the column, my usual reply is that it broadly references the relatively nontraditional path my life and career have taken. Much of this journey has been spontaneous. Maybe it happened by chance; but instead I would like to think it was serendipitous. All the same, it has been an exciting and meaningful adventure.
In the 2018 movie musical The Greatest Showman, the amazingly talented bearded lady Lettie Lutz (played by actress Keala Settle) belts out the powerful and moving song “This is me”. I find the lyrics and the theme totally relatable, particularly this excerpt:
“Look out ‘cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me”
June 2018 Health and Lifestyle