My Journey to UST and the Faculty of Medicine

The author spend almost 15 years of his life in UST from his undergraduate course up to his residency


Saturnino P. Javier, MD, FPCP, FPCC, FACC

Dr. Saturnino P. Javier is an interventional cardiologist at Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital and Medical Center. He is a past president of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) and past editor of PHA’s Newsbriefs

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In 2021, the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Faculty of Medicine and Surgery will celebrate its sesquicentennial anniversary (150 years). Not many universities in Asia can claim such honors.

Many other alumni and alumnae of UST have written about their years spent in UST. The editor of this magazine, Dr. Rafael Castillo, reminisced some years back how he nearly not became a physician if he allowed his youthful idealism to take the wiser and better part of him when he got involved in controversy involving the student campus publication, The Varsitarian. Like Dr. Castillo, many Thomasians must have a story to tell, an anecdote to share or a history to revisit. I, too, have mine.

UST was my ‘accidental’ Alma mater – as UP Los Baños was my first choice then. The impressionable in me thought that a course like Sugar Technology or Agricultural Chemistry was an impressive one. Those were the days when names, titles and images meant a great deal to me. From the high school where I graduated in my home town in Batangas, the closest prestigious university was UP Los Baños.

I do not remember anymore how I wandered onto the campus of UST even when I was already accepted at UP Los Baños. All I remember was that I was inclined to the sciences. Anything with Biology, or Chemistry, or Physics. Or maybe even better to have two fields together, like Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry.

And so I ended up taking a five-year course in Biochemistry at the Pontifical University. I remembered it was meant to be a temporary course. I followed the advice of some people who presumably knew better. The guiding principle was – “get onto something, then shift later.”

That, of course, was easier said than done. I soon realized that whenever one got entrenched in a course, a system or a class, getting out of it was really difficult. Five years hence, even before I knew it, I finished B.S. Biochemistry and eventually applied for Medicine. Fortunately, because I graduated with honors, I was automatically accepted into Medicine.

Everything just fell into place. Biochemistry. Then Medicine. Then Clerkship, Internship, Rural Service, Medicine Boards and Residency. Close to 15 years of my life, I spent them all in UST (nine years in Medicine). In those years, my Thomasian life was intertwined with the Martial Law years, the EDSA 1 Revolution, the martyrdom of Benigno Aquino and the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.

One of my forays while a student of Biochemistry was writing. I got in the official publication of the Faculty of Pharmacy, Medical Technology and Biochemistry – the Purple Gazette – and eventually became its editor-in-chief. Not too long after, I joined the official student publication of the University – The Varsitarian.

Already a Medicine proper student, while serving my second term as editor-in-chief, I remember that we wrote highly critical pieces on the university’s tuition fee hike. As an idealist student writer and student leader then, I embraced the thinking that every tuition fee hike was nothing but a pro-administration, money-making, anti-student and anti-poor scheme.

When my column against the fee hike was not allowed for publication, and when two or three revisions of the editorial on the fee hike also did not see print, and instead a revised (‘sanitized’) version written by the Publications Director appeared in its place, I was naturally upset (to put it mildly). I could still hear myself (“This is an injustice. This is a suppression of my rights. This is violation of press freedom.” – ad nauseum.) Thus, I resigned as editor-in-chief, citing press freedom and student rights as crucial issues behind my resignation.

I am the first student editor to resign ever from The Varsitarian. I can only smile whenever I reminisce on those crucial moments. I thought that was the height of my idealism – my youthful appreciation of what was just, fair and righteous.

To this day, I do not have any tinge of regret at all. However, I remember going through days of soul-searching and agonizing whether or not it was the right thing to do. What I was certain about was that I could not stay in an environment that I felt was unjust, suppressive, un-democratic. I would like to believe that UST taught me those values as well – to stand up for one’s principles and convictions. Thank you, Uste!

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