Without a doubt, we are a basketball loving country. Every street corner is filled with makeshift courts bursting with males both young and old basking in what is tagged as “the Filipino sport of choice”. It has been a bonding ritual for fathers and sons everywhere and at one point or another, every single Filipino boy has dreamed of becoming a professional athlete one day.
However, it is also a fact that Filipino parents also have other dreams for their children. They work day and night to provide the best education for their children, hoping they'd become lawyers or distinguished doctors one day.
These two passions have resulted in a country peppered with basketball star-wannabes and the most brilliant doctors. However, it is quite rare to find people who have an interest in both fields. One of those people who have fused the two interests rather successfully is former Ateneo Blue Eagle, Johan Uichico. Johan, who passed the medical boards just this year, was part of Ateneo basketball’s glory days from 2003 to 2006.
Johan looks back on these days fondly, “I played with the Blue Eagles starting when I was a college freshman in 2003. We played in the finals during my rookie season, finishing second to Far Eastern University (FEU); and also in 2006 when we lost, unfortunately, to University of Sto. Tomas (UST). I was very honored to have been a part of Ateneo’s rich basketball tradition and lucky to have played with some of the best players like Larry Fonacier and BJ Manalo. I have been blessed to be able to play under great coaches like Sandy Arespacochaga, Jamike Jarin, Joel Banal, and Norman Black.”
Despite his love for the sport, basketball took a backseat when he decided to pursue medicine, “As a result of my focus on basketball, my grades suffered and were not as high as I wanted them to be. I skipped the next season to concentrate on my studies and get my grades up for medical school. I could have come back for the season after that, but my father and I talked about what was best for my future; and in the end, we agreed that pursuing a medical career was what was best for me.”
Entering the medical profession just fell through for Johan, who dreamed of becoming a marine biologist when he was younger. “When I entered Ateneo, my original course was BS Communications Technology Management. When I got the chance, I shifted to BS Biology, hoping to pursue my childhood dream. But then I realized, pre med course na din pala ito, so that sparked my interest in the medical profession. I took the National Medical Admission Test (NMAT) and applied with the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health (ASMPH). Through God’s grace, I got accepted.”
And while the medical school journey wasn’t free from challenges, Johan doesn’t regret his decision of leaving the basketball court permanently, “There were many times I second guessed my decision to enter medical school instead of continuing to play basketball. However, I have no regrets. I enjoy the field of medicine immensely; the way it touches other people’s lives is just incredible.”
Medical school, he says, was taxing — mentally, physically and emotionally. He was also quick to say that another difficult aspect of being doctor, aside from the rigorous hours during his years of internship and clerkship, were seeing the emotional reaction of people when their loved ones died. “Seeing relatives cry or dying patients took a toll on me. Also, the far-from-ideal health system of the country meant not everyone received adequate treatment, and that is sad. Everyone, regardless of socio-economic standing, should be treated equally and receive appropriate treatment.”
But what got him through were the smiles on people’s faces when their relatives were saved and the simple thank yous his patients gave him. “These things kept me going and inspired me to go above and beyond the call of duty.”
These experiences have encouraged Johan to one day be an instrument for change in the health care system of the country.
An aspiring orthopedic surgeon, Johan now plays in an entirely different court, hoping to contribute to the health care system of the country, “Being a physican is a really noble profession. The country has the potential to be great again, and I hope to be one of the reasons behind its success in the future.”
And more than the number of games he has played, Johan deserves greater applause today as he champions the greater cause of saving lives.