"I DID not want to live with a ghost. A ghost of who I might have been if only I had been brave enough to try."

This was what Mark Johnuel Matabilas Duavis, 10th placer in the recently concluded Physician Licensure Examination, told SunStar Philippines in an interview Thursday, November 10, 2022.

He said it has not been easy for him to achieve his “childhood dream” but with hard work, perseverance and faith, nothing is impossible.

Duavis admitted doubting himself several times.

He and his two siblings were raised in a rural area in Buenavista, Bohol by his father, a public school teacher, and mother, a public school nurse.

Duavis said that when he was young, he would often see his mother providing medical assistance in their neighborhood.

“My mom is the health professional sa barangay... I always look up to her ever since na parang maganda maging doctor. So it has been a goal, a dream,” he said.

Duavis said he is aware that his parents cannot support him financially, considering that aside from him, his two other siblings were also studying.

“Sinasabi niya (mother) lagi mag-doctor ka kasi kaya mo naman kasi matalino ka naman,” he said.

(She (mother) always says you should become a doctor because you can because you are smart.)

In 2011, Duavis graduated from college with a degree in Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

He was .003 percent grade point average away from graduating with flying colors.

“Almost,” he said.

He then took the nursing board examination where he was .6 percent away from the top 10, another “almost” situation.

Due to their financial situation, Duavis was obliged to work as he didn't want his dreams to burden his family.

For six years, he worked as a nurse -- about a year with a non-government organization working on tuberculosis control and later in a Department of Health (DOH) regional office.

“During third or fourth year siguro of working, I was thinking na wala na sigurong chance kasi that time, ilang taon na ‘ko. Sabi ko parang wala ng chance pero sige, let's continue working,” said Duavis.

(During maybe the third or fourth year of working, I was thinking that maybe, there was no chance because at that time, I was a few years old. I said there seems to be no chance but okay, let's continue working.)

In 2017, the DOH again offered its scholarship program for aspiring doctors.

He took the opportunity and applied for the scholarship program in two different schools in Cebu province.

Under the program, schools conduct the selection process and submit their recommendation to the DOH of who they think deserves to get in.

The DOH shoulders 60 percent of the expenses of the scholars, while the rest is from the school. The program also includes financial allowance to the scholars, including for uniform, lodging, books and transportation.

Duavis, fortunately, passed the scholarship program in both schools, but he chose the University of Cebu College of Medicine Foundation Inc.-Mandaue.

He said he was hesitant at first.

“I have this dilemma during that time kasi six years na akong hindi nag-aaral parang (I was thinking) kaya ko bang bumalik sa pag-aaral?” he said.

(I have this dilemma during that time because I haven't been studying for six years. It's like (I was thinking) can I go back to studying?)

“But, I did not want na masasayangan pagtanda ko na (to grow old and) you regret the things that you could have done and wanted the entirety of your life to become,” he added.

Duavis said he used his savings to support his other needs aside from those being provided by the government while in medical school and he did not ask for a single centavo from his parents.

When the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic was declared in 2020, medical school became more challenging for Duavis especially with the shift to distance learning.

“Mahirap siya (It’s difficult) in a way na ang medicine kasi both a science and art, and art like being in front of patients, interacting with them doing procedures. Ang sad part during the Covid era was that wala kami masyadong (we don’t have much) patient kasi most of the patient sa hospital Covid in which interns and clerks are [off limits],” he said.

Duavis managed to get through the obstacles brought about by the pandemic and he graduated as the class valedictorian in 2021.

He then went to Manila and had his post graduate internship at the Philippine General Hospital for a year.

Duavis recalled being awake for over 24 hours and staying in the hospital for over two days as they waited for their possible cases.

Interns have a list of cases or procedures they had to do in order to complete the program.

He finished his internship on June 3, four months before the PLE.

Since he graduated from medical school, Duavis said he has been allotting time from every single day to review as a preparation for the PLE.

Duavis said he was confident of the PLE but not until the second subject of the exams.

“During the first day kasi, four days examination, first subject okay sige kaya pa, second subject nawalan ako ng pag-asa to a point na naapektuhan ‘yung third subject ko na kahit very simple question, hindi ko na sya masagutan ng tama. So after that exam, sabi ko parang hindi na siguro and it would take na a miracle to change that second and third subject ko talaga wala na. Fourth until the last subject, the 12, sinabi ko na lang na I’ll just give my best and let God do the miracles,” he said.

He said he was no longer expecting to see himself at the row of topnotchers not until in the early morning of Thursday, November 10, when his dog woke him up from a sleep, prompting him to look at his cellphone and see congratulatory messages from people close to him.

No more “almost,” as Duavis landed in the top 10 of the PLE.

A dream turned into a reality for him.

What’s next for Duavis?

He said it is time for him to give back and render service to the taxpayers who helped him reach his dreams.

He said it is either he will serve as a “Doctor to the Barrio” or to a government hospital, whichever may be ordered by the DOH.

“Sabi ko sa sarili ko hindi ako magiging doktor kung wala ‘yung taxpayers money, kung wala ang suporta ng everyone... It’s a way of paying back na alam kong hindi ko magagawa without the taxpayers and the government’s help,” he said.

(I told myself I wouldn't be a doctor without the taxpayers money, without everyone's support... It's a way of paying back for something that I know I can't do without the taxpayers and the government's help.)

He said that after three years of rendering public service, he will pursue internal medicine.

"It's always a reminder to myself to pursue my dreams no matter how lofty they may seem. I don't want to end up wasting my life regretting things that I could've done,” he added. (SunStar Philippines)