Jessica Franco Perez
Magna cum laude
Doctor of Medicine
UP College of Medicine
I am Jessica Franco Perez, 32 years old, from San Mateo, Rizal. I studied BS Nutrition in UP Los Baños and graduated magna cum laude in 2011. I passed the Nutritionist-Dietitian Licensure Examination and became a Registered Nutritionist-Dietitian that same year.
I worked at the Dietary Department of the UP-Philippine General Hospital (PGH) as a clinical dietitian. I was assigned at the Nutrition Clinic of the Department of Out-Patient Services where I provided nutrition assessment, individualized diet plans, and educational lectures to patients, doctors, and paramedical professionals. While working at PGH, I was also given opportunities to participate in different researches.
I am a co-investigator in a research project of Dr. A.G. Limpoco of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, titled “Development and Evaluation of Rapid Eating Assessment for Patients (REAP) Tool”. I also became part of several patient support groups, such as the Hansen’s Club, Lipat Kalinga, and Psoriasis Club.
After six years of working at PGH, I then applied to and got accepted in the University of the Philippines College of Medicine at the age of 28. I became a member of the UP Pangkalusugang Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral (UP PAGSAMA) where I served under the SocCon Force, a committee that focuses on social engagements and community organizing activities. In the recently conducted 114th Commencement Exercise of the UP College of Medicine, I finally got my Doctor of Medicine degree, graduating magna cum laude and being one of the Top 5 Most Outstanding Graduates in Academics of our batch. I was also given recognition as one of the Top 3 Most Outstanding Interns of AY 2022-2023, being an outstanding intern in Medicine, Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Surgery.
Pursuing the dream
I have always dreamt of becoming a doctor since I was a child. However, being born in a middle-class family, this dream seemed impossible. Being the second child in a brood of four, I also wanted to help my parents financially, especially in sending my younger sisters to college. I initially gave up on my dream of becoming a doctor and focused on a career still close to medicine. I was happy serving as a clinical dietitian. It was an equally fulfilling profession, having the opportunity to help other people through proper diet and a healthy lifestyle. However, I knew that some part of me was wishing and hoping I could still be a doctor someday. Every morning after I conducted lectures in the OPD waiting areas, seeing the long queue of people patiently waiting to be seen by a doctor, I had always felt the desire to serve more, both as a dietitian AND as a doctor.
When my youngest sibling was already in her last year in college, I asked myself, “Posible pa bang maging doctor ako? Ipu-pursue ko pa rin ba ang pagme-Med kahit na matanda na ako?” These doubts had been running through my mind for quite a while. I also did not want to be a burden to my family, especially to my mother, given the additional years of studying instead of earning money. Thankfully, my family and friends were very supportive and encouraged me to still try. As the famous line goes, “It is better to try and fail than to never know and wonder what could have been if I tried.” And so, I juggled work, the National Medical Admission Test review, and preparations for applications to medical schools.
With a limited amount of savings and overwhelming uncertainty, I found the courage to resign from the job I had treasured for six years to start this new journey. I was very blessed to be accepted in the UP College of Medicine, where I could have a subsidized, high quality medical education. Without the subsidized tuition fees, the scholarship grants from the College, the Pe Gan Heng Foundation, and the UP Medical Alumni Society of America (UPMASA), as well as the unending support of my family and friends, I may not have been able to reach this point.
Student life and survival tips
The University of the Philippines has been my home since I was in college. I have always believed in its ideals and advocacies. With this, I am truly grateful to be admitted to the UP College of Medicine that lives up to its vision-mission of cultivating highly competent scholars whose lives are directed to learning and service to the underserved. Our medical curriculum is guided by the principles of a community- oriented education, research, and service. These ideals and principles guided me through all these years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the College greatly helped the students as they were able to quickly adapt to the challenges and difficulties brought by the pandemic restrictions. They made sure that we were learning, while giving us ample consideration and understanding of the fact that we were also taking care of our family and doing chores at home, on top of our obligations as medical students.
Admittedly, I struggled with my studies, especially during my first year in medical school. With a gap of six years from the last time I had reviewed for an exam, I needed to relearn and adjust my study habits to fit the highly demanding medical education. I would sleep first after a long day of lectures and then wake up early in the morning to study. We all have different learning styles and thus, it is important to identify the study routine that works best for you. What worked for me may not work for other students. But if I were to share one study habit that greatly helped me survive medical school, it is the habit of planning and making a schedule. Planning ahead and identifying my target accomplishments for the day or the week made me more efficient and focused on my activities.
Another survival tip is to allow yourself to rest, as well as to allot quality time with family and friends, and on your hobbies. These will help you keep your sanity and will give you a boost to face yet another week of unending lectures, duties, and exams. My advice to make this possible would be to: 1) actively listen during lectures; 2) limit your time for browsing your social media accounts; and 3) prioritize sleep (you absorb and understand better what you are reading with a clear mind). I also maximized my study hours during weekdays (or on allotted study days) so that I could go home to Rizal and spend time with my family in the other days. All these helped me maintain balance between studies and life outside medical school.
Last but definitely one most important advice that I want to share is to have a deeper reason for what you do. Why are you studying medicine? Whenever I felt exhausted having to study for an exam even after a tiring hospital duty, I always went back to why I was here. I always reminded myself not to study just to pass the exams, but to study so that you will be a competent and excellent doctor for your future patients; study so that you can be part of a better healthcare system that you have always wanted. When we have a purpose that goes beyond us, things will still be difficult, but you will have the courage to overcome whatever obstacle you will face.
Plans after graduation
After graduating and passing the Physician Licensure Examination this October 2023, I plan to apply to the Internal Medicine residency program at the UP Philippine General Hospital. In the future, I also want to enter the academe as a professor and to participate in activities, programs, and advocacies directed to the service of marginalized communities and to the betterment of our healthcare system.
Looking back on my journey
Work hard, be patient, and do not give up on your dreams, even if it would take time realizing them. There will be detours and things will not always be in your favor. But be steadfast and trust that God’s plan is the best plan. Looking back on my journey, I now realize why God had to delay my admission to medical school. It was at the right time for me, when there was a CGMS (Cash Grant to Medical Students Enrolled in State Universities and Colleges) to largely subsidize our tuition fee knowing that I might not be able to finish my medical education due to financial constraints. I was taught by the most excellent professors who nurtured and inspired us to do our best as future physicians. I met my friends who have supported me and believed in me even in times when I myself doubted my own capabilities. They made my stay in UPCM worthwhile and much more bearable. Trust that the failures, rejections, frustrations, and “unanswered” prayers we encounter are part of the process to prepare us for the best things in life.
May we always uphold honor, integrity, and excellence whatever path we choose. May we all live a life of purpose, a life directed to the service of others. Kudos at Padayon, mga Doktor Para sa Bayan, Kasama ng Bayan!
Written by Dr. Jessica Franco Perez for the UP Pagtatapos 2023 microsite. https://up.edu.ph/pagtatapos-2023/