U.S.-based Filipino neurologist urges volunteerism via medical missions
When President George W. Bush declared 1990-1999 as the “Decade of the Brain” to enhance public awareness of the benefits of brain research,” Emilio Tayag, a fresh graduate of the University of the East-Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center saw the opportunity to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a neurosurgeon.
After passing the medical board exam, Tayag flew to the US in 1991 and started his residency the following year.
“My medical school was not taking any neurosurgery resident at the time ,” says Dr. Emilio Tayag, 52, a native of Sto. Domingo, Minalin, Pampanga and now a resident of Palm Springs, California. He is now a neurologist, neurosurgeon and neuro-rehabilitation specialist.
Despite having worked and lived in the US for more than a decade, Tayag remains close to home by doing volunteer works with Maglaya Medical and Legal Mission (MMLM), serving as adjunct faculty at UERMMC, and remaining a Filipino citizen.
He’s currently doing a neuro-intervention and open vascular fellowship and is also a clinical instructor at Desert Regional Medical Center, and assistant professor in neurology at California University of Science & Medicine, School of Medicine.
A Filipino doctor in America
Like most immigrants, Tayag has had to prove his worth and expertise in his field. “I have to work extra and doubly hard in everything I do. It motivated me to excel in every endeavor I was involved with. Also, you have to be upfront about it. Be assertive. Study your interviewers/programs you are applying to,” Dr. Tayag shares.
When he arrived in the U.S., he was fascinated with the latest medical technology and even with the Microsoft application.
“I only knew Wordstar. In our medical school back home, we did not have IV pumps. We only had CT scans,” Tayag laughs.
Finding a neurosurgery residency training program was also difficult if the applicant wass an IMG/FMG (International Medical graduate/Foreign medical graduate). Despite this, Tayag was accepted in several hospitals for neurology fellowships, trainings, surgery, and rehabilitation: New Rochelle Hospital and Media Center, New Rochelle, NY; Department of Neurosurgery at University of Texas; Hahnemann University, Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center; and Tulane University, in New Orleans.
Tayag in 1999 was named the Best Resident/Fellow of the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, which was recommended by 4th District, County of Los Angeles during the Doctor’s Appreciation Day.
Spirit of Volunteerism
Tayag is not new to volunteer work. As a pre-med student at the Ateneo de Manila University, he was in LIKAS (Lingap para sa Kalusugan ng Sambayanan), an organization composed mainly of medical students. LIKAS had branched out to medical schools in the Philippines.
Tayag was one of the founding members of LIKAS-Ateneo, of whose programs was to train barangay health workers in poor areas in the Philippines. He also did volunteer works to Caritas and Rotary Club.
The spirit of volunteerism never left him, and he found another way to serve the Philippines despite living abroad.
While in the medical school in the Philippines, Tayag met Dr. Cherry Maglaya-Lee who founded MMLM. The two remain connected in the United States.
MMLM is a non-profit charity organization recognized by the State of Nevada. This status legally allows MMLM donors to use their contributions as a tax write-off.
Since 2014, Tayag has been supporting MMLM. In 2017 he joined its medical and legal missions in Caba, La Union.
“The approach of MMLM is holistic. It is aligned with my own exposure and philosophy in medicine. The approach to the diseases should be holistic–medical, dental, surgical, social, legal, etc.” Tayag explains.
“Dr. Tayag is very compassionate and full of empathy. I consult a lot of cases with him– medical, legal and financial,” Maglaya-Lee says.
To recognize his invaluable contributions MMLM established the Emil C. Tayag, MD Scholarship Fund for indigent MMLM Volunteers. His donation enables the volunteers to continue their education. Among the beneficiaries are Melody Manongdo, BS Education student and Melchizedek Estalilla, who is studying nursing.
Tayag believes that aside from “sharing,” volunteering is also a way of discovering one’s self and others.
“Money is not everything. Growing up, I had experienced being well-off but also being poor. There is a great feeling of fulfillment when you share yourself and your knowledge by volunteering,” Tayag explains.
He says that the problem in the health care system in the Philippines is delivery, because of the uneven distribution of health care professionals. Specialists are concentrated in the major cities while the countryside remains underdeveloped in terms of health and medical services.
“There is also too much focus on tertiary care. Primary or preventive care and health promotion are definitely lacking,” Tayag claims.
Tayag calls on to his fellow health care providers to do volunteer missions in areas that have no access to medical/surgical/dental professionals. Doing medical mission is not only about performing surgeries and dispensing medicines, but it also must stress community education about health promotion and disease prevention.
“We should be reminded that educating our community is most of the time the neglected part of our mission as physicians. By volunteering on medical missions, we are fulfilling our broader mission to educate the community on the preventive aspects of health,” Dr. Tayag stated.
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