COM's blessed beginning

It was a blessed day for the whole MMSU community when former CHED Chairperson Patricia B. Licuanan led the members of CHED en banc committee in approving the opening of the MMSU College of Medicine in a special session held on May 11, 2015.


The official launching of the COM was held on May 26 and, after that, 17 freshmen, mostly graduates of MMSU, have applied in the COM for school year 2015 - 2016. This group now composed the pioneer batch of this youngest yet prestigious medical school in the country for Class 2019.


In retrospect, former MMSU President Miriam E. Pascua said the dream to establish the COM started in 1996 during the leadership of former MMSU President Elias L. Calacal but it was only in 2012 when the members of the Board of Regents approved its offering.


Dr. Pascua expressed gratefulness because this is the fulfillment of a dream 19 years ago, saying that MMSU is now on the right road of producing good doctors who will address the shortage of medical practitioners in the country.


It is recalled that the members of the Regional Quality Assessment Team (RQAT) led by Drs. Kristal Mendoza and Pacita Apilado visited the university in the early part of 2014 and endorsed to the CHED its formal opening on the first semester of 2014. However, the plan did not materialize because some requirements have not been met.


The CHED commission en banc further validated the RQAT's endorsement and checked on the quality of the COM in terms of facilities and other needs. This is based on the policies, guidelines and standards set by the CHED.


In an interview, Prof. Ryan Dean Sucgang, then the acting COM secretary, said that chairpersons were identified to lead the 17departments which are grouped into two - the Basic Sciences Department (BSD) and the Clinical Sciences Department (CSD). The chairmen are either medical doctors or organic personnel of the College of Health Sciences.


The departments in the Basic Sciences are Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Pathology, Research, Microbiology and Parasitology, and Preventive Medicine. In the CSD, it includes Medicine, Surgery, OB-Gyne, Pediatrics, Neurological Sciences, Ophthalmology, Psychiatry, and Legal Medicine.


The COM temporarily occupied the University Training Center while waiting for the construction of a new building located at a lot occupied by the university motor pool. Some P40 million was allotted for the construction of the COM building which was finished in September 2015.


Since the COM is a community-based degree program, tuition fee is pegged at a minimal amount because it is being subsidized by the university. Students are obliged to work in their respective communities while studying medicine.


"We are not into money-making curriculum because we want to help the rural communities produce their own doctors in the future," Sucgang said.


Meanwhile, Dr. Pascua lamented that there is a well-documented need for more physicians and better health care access in the country which lags near the bottom in nearly every measure of health when compared to other counties. That's why university officials and a coalition of community supporters in Ilocos Norte pushed for a medical school in the province to deal with an increasing shortage of doctors and health specialists in the country, especially in rural areas.


Prior to its opening, a team which involved in the establishment of the COM has expedited plans to make the College as part of the university's academic degree programs. Aside from the university, the Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center (MMMH-MC) was also involved in the creation of the medical school. University officials have negotiated with the MMMH-MC regarding the additional faculty members and COM's clinical programs. 


During that time, about 20 medical doctors in the province have signified their commitment to serve as faculty of the COM.


Dr. Pascua opined that the opening of the COM is a victory for those who have long petitioned for the medical school's opening. Medical school advocates in the university were backed by statistical data showing an evident shortage of doctors in the rural areas, which shed light on the need for a fourth medical school in the Ilocos region.


Dr. Jose Y. Cueto Jr.., a native of Sinait, Ilocos Sur,  served as its first dean, while two veteran physicians, Joven Cuanang and Marietta Baccay, initially served as administrative consultants. Dr. Cueto was a former member of the PRC Board of Medicine, while Dr. Cuanang, who was chairman of the board of St. Luke's College of Medicine, retired in December 2013 as medical director of the St. Luke's Medical Center in Quezon City and Makati Global City. 


Since then, university officials have done their best to expedite arrangements and mechanisms. Negotiations with the MMMH-MC were done to identify additional faculty members and clinical programs. 


During the incumbency of Dr. Shirley C. Agrupis as the seventh MMSU president, Dr. Cueto relinquished his deanship in 2017 to become the next commissioner of the PRC. Thus, Dr. Ricardo S. Guanzon was appointed dean in January 2018. 


Today, the COM is taking its way toward realizing its goals -- to develop medical doctors in the region, conduct researches that could improve the quality of medical education and services, render extension activities, and establish linkages with other health agencies.


Its students and faculty members have participated and won in various competitions and conventions in local, regional and national levels. It also involved in community engagement programs like the medical mission and healthy lifestyle, and blood donation drive, which are in partnership with various government and private agencies and organizations.


This year, the COM is setting another milestone in the history of MMSU as it produced 14 pioneer graduates who, later on, will undergo one-year internship before taking the Physician Licensure Examination.