By Louie Dy (Class 2021), Lorena Osorio (Class 2021), Diego Mina (Class 2021), Lordom Grecia (Class 2021), Er Pilotin (Class 2021), Markyn Kho (Class 2020), Rory Nakpil (Class 2022), Hanna Ho (Class 2022)
Dean Charlotte Chiong is a graduate of BS Zoology from UP Diliman in 1981 (Summa Cum Laude), Doctor of Medicine from UP College of Medicine in 1985, Residency in Otorhinolaryngology in UP-PGH in 1990 (Chief Resident and Most Outstanding Resident), Research Fellowship in Otology, Harvard Medical School – Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (1991-1992), Clinical Fellowship in Neurotology – Skull Base Surgery University of Toronto – Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center (1992-1993), and PhD in Medical Sciences from Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands (2011-2013).
She also became an Associate Professor of the UP College of Medicine in 1993. She was previously the UP Manila Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development, the PGH Assstant Director for Health Operations, and many years ago, the UPCM Chief of the Research Integration Development Office (RIDO). Prior to her current post, she was the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Philippine National Ear Institute and the Newborn Hearing Reference Center in UP Manila. More information on her background and administration experience can be found here and here.
“I just finished my internship in the US, and I learned about this technology that allowed deaf people to hear, [which was] cochlear implantation. The professor [there], Dr. James [sic], started the program,” Dr. Chiong said. As she was a very young physician straight from her internship, [he] told her to start a program for pediatric children in a matter of fifteen years. She told the professor aloud how she wished that the Philippines would have the same technology. She was not even sure if the technology would reach the Philippines. He replied, “For all you know, you’ll be the one to pioneer cochlear implantation [in the Philippines].” She thought, “Wow, that’s good! Maybe that’s what I wanted.”
She was a straight intern in Department of Medicine. She had wanted to go into cardiology, endocrinology. She was also the Most Outstanding Intern in Pediatrics, so she also had wanted to become a pediatrician. However, she recalled her professor telling her to “pioneer something in the Philippines”.
“Maybe I’d like to be an ENT, and do the first cochlear implantation in the Philippines.” – that was in 1986. It happened in 1998 at PGH, when we did our first few adult cochlear implantation[s]. I assisted, and I was part of the team in November 1997, when we did our first cochlear implantation in St. Lukes,” she said.
She asked the professor emeritus in her trip on whether she should have her residency training in the US or the Philippines. The professor asked, “Where would you like to practice?” to which she answered, “I want to practice in the Philippines.” She found his advice one of the wisest advices she has ever gotten:
“In that case,” he told her, “you better do your residency training in PGH, ‘cause by then you are able to build your network, for one, your career, that you basically learn more medicine with your colleagues when you do your residency in PGH, and you become more aware of the common problems that afflict your population, and I can tell you if you keep up your good academic credentials it will be easy to get an elective in any college, to concentrate on the gaps that you will be able to identify in your residency.”
After she became a clinical surgeon, there was a day when she realized, “How many deaf children will I be able to operate on in my entire professional career? I’d be lucky if [it’ll be] 1000 or more. … Something is not right. Because I can make a difference in the lives of so many, I start thinking that one thing’s missing – [the] early prevention of hearing loss. … So [that was when] I wanted to go into prevention and health promotion.”
Together with Dr. Rina Reyes, they brought the machine that would detect hearing loss in newborns, and placed it in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). When they did a study with that machine, they actually found out that 30% of the babies failed the screening test. They realized that, with the knowledge of the risk factors, child deafness can be screened at an earlier age, so that intervention can be given earlier, and the children will be able to learn how to speak. That study was published internationally.
One day, a senator with hearing loss and tinnitus came to her and got well after treatment. “How can I help your sector?” the senator asked her. Dr. Chiong said that she was not interested in a position in the government, but was interested in having a [screening program] take root. She then explained why a hearing screening program was necessary in order to detect hearing problems earlier, and do an intervention earlier to prevent deafness.
The senator asked her, “Do we have studies on this? Do we have research? Epidemiology? How big is the problem here?” Dr. Chiong mentioned that studies have been done and published. When the senator asked her where she got the money from in doing these research, she said, “10% of my income from my private practice – I put it in a research trust fund.” The money was then used to hire technicians, buy machines, and this allowed her to start her research, making sure that she has set aside money.
“So from the clinician-surgeon I actually shifted into someone who’s actually advocating for a health policy. Eventually this became a law. So in 2009, RA 9709, that actually mandated newborn hearing screening in the Philippines – the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Intervention Act of 2009 – was passed into law and signed by the president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But of course, that was the easier part – getting the law passed. The harder part is the implementation of the law. So that allowed me to put some effort into [knowing] how to implement a health policy in the country. From a physician to basically becoming an administrator, an implementer of the law. So from a “just doing clinics”, I have to think about the larger community at large and even the country. And that the community-based newborn hearing screening, which I espoused, was the one that actually made Philippines known not only in the [ASEAN] region but also in the world. I got invited to speak for the United Nations and the World Health Organization, regarding community-based newborn hearing screening and the cost-effectiveness of this program,” she said.
“When we talk about community-oriented medical education, we don’t just want you to work in a community and treat these patients, but actually think bigger, dream bigger, think larger. Because in fact, when you think about really what you can do for your country, you can also do for your region, and also for the world,” she said.
Two months into her position as dean, Dr. Chiong has encountered lots of challenges, but she is looking forward to and excited for the work. In the process of looking for officers in the Dean’s Management Team, she first looked at individuals whom she has known from way back. Dr. Abner Chan, the incumbent College Secretary, is her groupmate in anatomy (anatomate). The Associate Dean for Faculty and Students is a classmate of hers, from the Department of Pediatrics.
“I requested the previous associate dean for academic development, Dr. Coralie, to stay on and luckily, she agreed to continue to serve the college and I’m really very happy about that. But for the simple reason that I think that the academic development is something that should be really be stable. Continuity is very important. We have an upcoming ASEAN University Network Quality Assurance (AUN-QA) by the end of the month so that’s very important that we are able to do well, in the AUN-QA. So for the others, people have recommended them, I’ve asked them to submit their curriculum vitae to look at the best experience that they had in order to give me an idea. I also asked around regarding the interests, the committees of the laboratory before, in order to really convince that they should be able to give some fresh input into their new job,” she said.
“For the planning and development, because this is one of the most important infrastructure developments of UPCM, associate dean for planning, Dr. JJ Cruz, was covering my assistant when I sat in as vice chancellor for planning. He was actually the first assistant to the vice chancellor for planning by my side.”
According to Dr. Chiong, her leadership style is actually very personal and informal because the people she chose to be part of the [Dean’s Management Team] are actually escorts in their own fields with very special talents. “So what I do is I just give them basically the direction, but I leave it to them to put in the details. I just ask them to tell me what they plan to do, how they plan to do it, and it works. So in the very short span of time, we’ve actually held a strategic planning workshop early, and I gave them the flagship project, The Six Pillars, the acronym INSPIRE, that will guide us for the next two years. And basically, what we’ve decided on is actually to use this basically as a guide. So although we did our first strategic planning workshop, of course, the subsequent meetings will be more including of the details of each plan under each office,” she said.
Stay tuned for the next article of The CochleHear Series on the dean’s flagship project, INSPIRE!