U of Washington spotlights first Fil-Am grad of its med school
SEATTLE – The University of Washington put the spotlight on Dr. Fernando Vega, the first Filipino American graduate of the university’s medical school, with a feature article in its magazine.
Vega has taught at the UW’s School of Medicine and the School of Public Health over the years and today, in “retirement,” he does rotations at Seattle Healing Arts Center, which offers a variety of comprehensive and holistic health care ranging from naturopathy and family medicine to sexual health and psychotherapy.
He and his second wife, Dr. Martina Koller, care for patients together, often making house calls on weekends to longtime patients or family members who need assistance, according to the article by free-lance writer Sheila Farr.
Today, garbed in protective gear the couple tries try to keep housebound people out of the hospital by checking in on them amid the pandemic.
Vega has come a long way since the 1970s when the University of Washington’s medical school was dominated by white males. Seattle-born Fernando Vega, who had fancied science since he was a kid found a way in, thanks to the university’s Equal Opportunity Program. He was the only Filipino American in the class.
“It was tough,” he says. “Here was this minority student who had the weight of expectations: I could not fail,” Farr quotes Vega. He soldiered on and became the first Filipino American to graduate from the UW School of Medicine in 1978.
Vega spent his first six years in the Philippines, where he spoke Tagalog and studied English from his father. In his early 20s, he volunteered as a patient advocate and observed doctors as they treated various illnesses, from sexually transmitted diseases and drug problems to the flu and mental health issues.
Vega was named “Asian Scholar of the Year” during his senior undergrad year a UW, where he majored in cell and molecular biology. His science scores on the Medical College Admission Test were higher than the class average. But most importantly, he was a firm believer in community service and health care as a right.
He first worked as a phlebotomist at UW Medical Center-Montlake, to help pay his medical school expenses, followed by a three-year residency in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where he also worked after hours as an emergency room physician.
After returning to Seattle in 1981, he opened a family-focused private practice. He eventually included a traditional Chinese medical doctor at his clinic, which attracted patients to who sought alternatives or complements to Western medicine.
Now 69 years old, Vega thinks it would be a waste of his experience to simply retire. So he continues to see patients part time. “As always, he wants to continue advocating for greater exploration of healing and medicine,” Farr’s article concludes.