Dr. Fernandez talks about her humble beginnings and gives advice on beginning a clinical career.

by Amiel Villanueva*

The Universitas Headquarters was packed with attendees last May 31, 2019 as the Foundation launched the (UDF) with Dr. Lenora Cañizares-Fernandez, president of the Philippine College of Chest Physicians, as inaugural speaker.

The UDF is the Foundation’s lead program dedicated for doctors. It is an event designed to gather young physicians and medical students and provide them a venue to encounter and learn from established doctors who embody competence, character, compassion and integrity — values which lie at the core of Universitas’ leadership formation.

The evening began with a light meal and the attendees engaging in animated conversations. Universitas President and CEO, Atty. Oliver M. Tuazon, then gave the participants a brief introduction about the Universitas Foundation, highlighting its various activities, programs and international linkages. Afterwards, Dr. Kristine Noelle M. Sunga, one of the event organizers, proceeded to introduce Dr. Lenora Cañizares-Fernandez, the evening’s guest speaker

Atty. Tuazon introducing the Foundation to the participants.

Dr. Fernandez, who heads the specialty society of over 800 pulmonologists nationwide, shared her personal experiences with the attendees and talked about the journey of starting a clinical career.

Decisions and Surprises

Dr. Fernandez received training in internal medicine and pulmonology at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) where she served as chief resident, and later chief fellow of the Section of Pulmonary Medicine. Currently, she practices at the PGH and the Asian Hospital and Medical Center in Alabang.

For Dr. Fernandez, who was originally from Dumaguete City, deciding where to pursue training and practice did not come easy. “Your environment will also play a big role in terms of directing you where you are supposed to go,” she said.

After finishing from the Philippine Science High School in Diliman, she joined the first batch of direct entrants to the Integrated Liberal Arts and Medicine Program (INTARMED) and started medicine proper at only 18 years old. This accelerated 7-year medicine program of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine (UPCM) admits only forty high school graduates annually.

During medical training, she met her future husband who influenced many of her major decisions, including staying in the country. “Love came into the picture,” she related, eliciting some chuckles and giggles from the audience.

Her decision to settle in Metro Manila was influenced by many things, including the physical proximity to her extended family, as well as career opportunities for her chosen specialty.  “Where you will be needed is important to decide where you will practice.” Indeed, this decision has not prevented her, but has helped her further flourish in her profession. In 2006, Dr. Fernandez received the Outstanding Young Scientist award from the National Academy of Science and Technology.

Dr. Fernandez also shared the challenges she encountered in her life. When diagnosed with breast cancer, she had to make adjustments in her work and family life to undergo treatments such as chemotherapy. At the age of 44 years, she became pregnant with her third child.

The speaker’s journey was a testament to the truth that no matter how much one makes plans, life does not fail to bring surprises.

 The first UDF was attended by several medical students from the University of the Philippines Manila


Personal Influences

Being someone who has had numerous achievements and who values excellence in her work, Dr. Fernandez is thankful that her husband remains understanding and supportive with her pursuit of what she referred to as “personal growth”.

One member of the audience, Louie Dy, an incoming clerk from UPCM, noted how the talk made him realize that “love life plays a key role in finding happiness and balance in (one’s) medical career.”

While in school, Dr. Fernandez shared that she regretted the lack of any religious formation. Fortunately she was introduced to a center of Opus Dei, a personal prelature in the Catholic Church. “I really appreciate the philosophy [it] inculcated in me in terms of sanctity in the small things,” she said.

She talked about how the words and teachings of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, inspired her to love what she was doing, and gave her strength and encouragement during those times when she dealt with cancer and came face-to-face with her own mortality.

 .Dr. Fernandez (second from left) poses with UDF organizers Dr. Cary Amiel Villanueva, Atty. Tuazon and Dr. Kristine Noelle Sunga

In her talk, Dr. Fernandez listed the following values essential for every physician: passion and dedication, discernment, the ability to multitask, and empathy (malasakit). Maria Victoria Cu, an incoming PGH intern who was one of the attendees of the UDF, shared her reflection thus: “As future physicians, I think it is important to have these sets of values to guide us along our journey… as full-fledged doctors in the future.”

For the past fifteen years, Dr. Fernandez has advocated for the reduction of smoking in the country, and has voiced her support for the increase in the “sin tax” for the purpose of funding universal health care. Her research publications include studies on smoking cessation and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

She has held various leadership positions including being training officer and section head of the Section of Pulmonary Medicine at PGH, and director of the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine at the UPCM. At present, Dr. Fernandez wears several hats including that of a clinician, educator, researcher and administrator. Asked if she recommends it, she answers in the negative and gives the following piece of advice: “You have to [be forgiving with] yourself also. You can’t do everything.”

The talk was well-received by the participants, many of whom engaged the speaker with their questions. At the end of the event, Atty. Tuazon and Dr. Cary Amiel Villanueva, project manager of UDF, presented Dr. Fernandez with tokens of appreciation.

The participants of the first UDF pose for a photo with the guest speaker

Together with the Universitas Foundation, Inc., the first UDF was organized in cooperation with the Biomedical Sciences and Ethics Study Group and UP Caduceus, both organizations having been founded by students at the University of the Philippines Manila.

*Dr. Amiel Villanueva is an internal medicine resident and is project manager of the Universitas Doctors Forum.


NOTA BENE: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and the speakers mentioned in the article, and not necessarily to the Foundation.

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