The CochleHear Series: Fast Talk with the Dean and Some Anecdotes

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 smiles as she shares anecdotes on her journey as a physician.


Fast Talk with the Dean

          Adobo or sinigang?

          Favorite song?
          James Taylor, “You’ve Got a Friend.”


          Celebrity crush?
          James Taylor ang crush ko e.

          If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be?
          I’d probably be a writer.

          May I ask a follow-up question: what kind of writer?
          Well, I used to write poetry, in both Filipino and English.

          Dream travel destination?
          I want to see the aurora borealis.

          Comfort or style?

          Coffee or tea?

          Spirit animal?
          My favorite animal is a rabbit. I had a pet rabbit when I was in high school. Easy to take care of, easy to pet, no demands, quiet (laughs).

          Night owl or morning lark?
          Night owl.

          What’s your personal motto?
          Do the best that you can, all the time.


Spearheading the Path Towards More Research-Oriented Medical Education

Whenever students are asked what a Five-Star Physician means to them, Dr. Chiong observes that they would say “to give compassionate care”, or “to become a compassionate health provider, decision maker, communicator, community leader and manager”. Nevertheless, she says she will be putting focus on one particular star – the research thrust.

“I want the UPCM medical student to graduate as a physician-scientist, with a nationalist fervor,” she says. “Research can be translated into better clinical care, or better health policy, or  changes in how we deliver care to individual patients. That’s my dream for the UPCM student — to strengthen its system by which we are able to graduate as physician-scientists. The physician-scientist is not only for the MD-PhDs, but for every UPCM graduate.”

From the exit interview of the first batch of MD-PhD graduates, three out of the four graduates had indicated their preference to undertake residency training instead of research. While this may sound rather contrary to the goal of the MD-PhD program, the dean does not believe so. For her, the MD-PhDs should be immersed in the clinics as well, so they will be able to formulate the research questions that can answer the needs of the patients in the clinics — similar to what she has done for the Newborn Hearing Screening program in the country.

“It’s going to be not only bench-to-bedside, but bedside-to-bench, and also from bench-to-community,” she says.


Dr. Chiong then ended by sharing another story:

We went to Boracay [in 2004], not because we want to go to the beach — although that’s part of it (laughs). We went there to do mission work for the Ati population. The conditions for the indigenous peoples were really poor. We found out that 50% of them had luga – ear discharge, so we said, “Bakit ganon?” The national average for otitis media is 12%. How come we’re given 50% here?

One of our graduates at our ENT Training Program, Dr. Regie Lyn Santos-Cortez, has a PhD in Genetic Epidemiology. Her first paper was on a child who had recurring ear infections in the pediatrics ward. They couldn’t find out what’s wrong with the child. I told her, “Baka may cochlear malformation. Let’s do a CT scan.” Lo and behold, when we thought it was a normal CT scan, the patient actually had a cochlear malformation. That paper won a first prize.[Dr. Santos-Cortez] did a pedigree for the Ati population in Boracay. She found [the trait] to be circular instead of going down — that means there are a lot of intermarriages. When we got samples from the saliva and from the discharge, what we found out was that they had a gene, a rare mutation in A2ML1 (a protein important for defense against microbes), which made them predisposed to developing otitis media.That paper got published in Nature in Genetics in 2015.” [Link to the article here. – Ed.]


Dr. Chiong strongly believes that survey or research always go hand in hand with service. For example, buying expensive audiometers at 250,000 or 300,000 pesos are unnecessary when even schoolteachers can be taught how to use a more affordable, 250-peso tuning fork to do hearing screening and detect hearing loss among children.

“You can translate what you learned in the clinics, so that you are also able to do it in the communities and vice-versa,” she says. “Community can also impact the way you take care of your patients, and taking care of patients can also impact the community.”

“My dream for medical students to graduate in UPCM is actually quite big,” she continues. “If there’s anything I learned from being in med school, it’s that if you do really well, if you imbibe the values that we want you to really learn — honesty, integrity, hard work, discipline — these values will allow you to grab an opportunity when it presents itself. And once you get that opportunity, that it will lead to more doors opening for you. We want you to realize your dreams and pursue your passion. We want you to be able to incorporate happiness into your lives. Because when we are not happy doing anything, it’s not worth it. You take care of patients and you enjoy that as well. Because if you do that — and that’s what happened to me — everything will be exciting.”

Dr. Chiong was a second year high school student when she decided to become a doctor. Her father used to show her chapters of a medical textbook, with red ink underlining his name cited in the references. This was one of the reasons she followed his footsteps into research.

“He said, ‘O, eto, this is what I did in 1961,’” she shares. “‘You were still in your mother’s womb. I had to leave you and your mom because I had to go back to our fellowship and do research in Johns Hopkins and sit in for the American Board of ENT. It was important that I get my credentials as a specialist in the US because not very many can do that.’”

After she graduated from UPCM in 1985, she chose to do research alongside her residency. Many doors were opened because of it, and she was able to stay in Japan, submit her paper to the World Congress of ORL, and present her research in Madrid.


Lessons Learned from Work in Surgery and Postgraduate Studies

When she finished her fellowship and PGH Director Dr. Gap Legaspi was still a senior resident, she would tell him, “Gap, you have to learn to look at the brain through the ear.” They were able to form a skull base surgery team in PGH in 1994, and they have since done more than 400 skull base surgeries, with requests coming from all over the world.

“It’s very important for you, [kapag] nasa clinic na kayo, ‘wag niyo kalimutan ang mga kaklase ninyo,” she says. “You have to maintain good relationships with your classmates kasi these will soon be your colleagues. You have to establish and maintain the reputation of being responsible, that you can be relied upon. Kasi matatandaan mo na yan. If you can, become “most outstanding”, most especially para when you apply for the residency of your department, kilala na kayo ng residente: ‘yan, sipag yan, galing yan’.”

When she was a fourth year medical student, she applied to Johns Hopkins University and was accepted in the research laboratory of William Brownwell, discoverer of the motility of the outer hair cells in the cochlea. Unfortunately, her father did not allow her because she had not yet graduated. “Why don’t you start internship first?” he had said.

When she studied otoacoustic emissions (OAE) for her PhD dissertation, she learned that OAE was based on outer hair cell motility. While she wasn’t able to do research on basic science all those years ago, it turned out not to be a missed opportunity as she was still able to add to scientific knowledge years later.


Memories from Class ‘85

Class ‘85 Celebration of Excellence in Leadership

She recalls how much she loves her class, who had a lot of outings and enjoyed one another’s company during their med school days. Whenever there would be no lecturer, somebody would just come up on the stage in front of the class and do jokes or skits, with hand puppet props. Whenever there was a tipsy party, the men came up in dresses.

Hindi kami ‘DOMINATE’. Ang cheer lang namin is “Gotta Survive til Eighty-Five”, she shares. “And we survived, as one. We really helped each other, we made sure that we take care of each other. And I think that’s the way with medicine. You’re not just here to learn medicine; you’re really here to develop life-long friendships. And when you really think about it, ‘yun din naman ‘yung mas importante.”.

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