When I decided to take that long and winding road to becoming a doctor, I had no idea about how much money and tears it would cost me (mostly tears for me) and my family.
First and foremost, I have always been my Lola’s (grandmother) scholar. She sent me, along with my brother and cousins to private schools in elementary and high school (except for me). I attended a public high school (with an outstanding science program) but she still supported all of us financially. Note that she was more than 70 years old at that time, but she still worked to help us achieve our goals. I was not pressured to study hard by anyone. Maybe I did my best to at least return the favor to my hard-working Lola and parents.
During college in University of the Philippines Manila, I had a scholarship grant from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) so I did not pay for tuition fees throughout those four years of education. I was lucky that my high school encouraged us students to apply for this particular scholarship because it really helped me. My Lola still supported us financially.
Going into med school was a different story. After not being accepted by UP-PGH, I had to choose between University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center Inc. (UERMMMCI) and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynia (PLM). The former is a private school while the latter is government-subsidized. Going into PLM would mean less fees to pay for by my family but I just knew I would be happier in UERM. I was really selfish but I do not really regret this decision.
I was a University Entrance Scholar in UERM, meaning I did not have to pay for the tuition and miscellaneous fees for my freshman year. We literally saved about 250,000 pesos that year. The problem was that I overestimated my capabilities and underestimated the study of medicine. The effort I exerted during freshman year was so much more than how I studied from first grade to college combined. I did not understand why I just could not have an average of 88 (1.75 GPA) after all the late-night studying, missed day out with friends, and missed celebrations at home in the province. I would often call my parents in the middle of the night or past midnight just to cry and tell them how I was having a hard time meeting the required grade. If I won’t get a 1.75 GPA (1 being the highest), I would lose my full scholarship. To make things worse, we were having a financial crisis that year.
One night, I called my parents crying and my mom asked, “Gusto mo bang tumigil muna?” I know she only wanted what was best for me and the whole family but it really broke my heart. The thought of not being able to reach my dream despite all my hard work was killing me. I never thought poverty or not having too much money could actually hinder me from becoming a doctor. I felt hopeless; I thought that was the end for me. “Sana mayaman na lang kami,” I said to myself. There were so many questions in my head like, “Akala ko ba kapag masipag ka, walang imposible?”
Just when I thought everything was over, I had a call from my parents telling me that everything was going to be alright. During second year, I was a partial academic scholar (my average was 1.78 for first year, sayang talaga). It means I got a 50% discount on tuition fee. On top of that, the UERM Scholarship Committee gave me an additional grant which further decreased the amount we had to pay for. Lola Dim still supported me financially, and some of my aunts and uncles also helped. The same thing happened for my third year. That’s when I learned not to be hard on myself. I knew I did the best that I could and a partial academic scholarship was still a great help. I am very thankful for the financial and moral support I have received.
The transition from third year to fourth year was the hardest. I was really nervous because third year was the most difficult. I was not able to get an academic scholarship for the following year. But the transition was so hard to bear because Lola Dim passed away during my last month in third year. She was 89 years old. I always dreamed of the day she would see me graduate. I was devastated to hear the news that she would not be able to witness the fruit of all her hard work and selflessness.
Not having an academic scholarship was a great obstacle. But you know, there were a lot of people who were willing to help and give overflowing encouragements — the doctors from the scholarship committee, my sisters from the Sigma Beta Sorority, my brothers from the Beta Sigma Fraternity, friends, and of course, my parents, my family.
Today, I am writing this as Rachelle Carmona Ramilo, MD. I will forever be grateful to the institutions that helped me, and the people who have always believed in me. From saying “Sana mayaman na lang kami,” I now say “Sana makatulong rin ako sa iba sa hinaharap.”
I really wish Lola Dim was there with me, Tatay, and Mami on the stage when I got my diploma (our diploma). I hope I made you proud, Lola. Maraming maraming salamat po.