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When the Time to Retire is Not Yet Right?

A resounding NO! comes from Dr. Milagros de Lara when asked if she’s already on the road to retirement. Dr. de Lara—an adult cardiologist, hospital administrator and president of the Board of Trustees of the Mt. Carmel Medical Center in Bocaue, Bulacan—says that while some of her medicine school classmates are already on their way to a retiree’s life, her time to do so hasn’t come just yet.

Still on top of the heap
Dubbed as Bulacan’s “ultimate cardiologist,” Dr. de Lara is still on top of her field and definitely on top of the ins and outs of her tertiary hospital and college. “I’m 68 and it is only now that I realize I am already eight years past the retirement age,”says Dr. de Lara.

She holds clinic at Mt. Carmel Medical Center from 9am to 1 pm—which is sometimes extended from 4 to 6pm depending on the number of patients wishing to consult with her. She is always on an “on-call” status 24/7 for resident referrals. On top of that, Dr. de Lara is also Mt. Carmel Medical Center’s administrator one of Mt. Carmel College’s deans. Not to mention, Dr. de Lara, with her husband Dr. Lamberto de Lara, is also setting up the Mt. Carmel Community Center which aims to serve underprivileged families in Bulacan.

Considering her age and perhaps some limitations that it entails, Dr. de Lara should be slowing down already. But it seems that stepping on the brake isn’t part of her plans yet. “Service always comes first,” emphasizes Dr. de Lara. “Plus, it seems like a waste if you will not put your training into good use if you are still able to practice.”

She also counts her being active as a chance to become a good example among her two daughters who have become doctors themselves. “I want them to see that you should serve the people as long as you are able to,” she shares. Dr. de Lara also points out, “Even my contemporaries and classmates from medicine school are still on-the-go. If they can practice, then that means I still can, too!”

When the old meets new
Not only has Dr. de Lara stayed active in her practice, she also makes sure that her intellect and clinical eye remain razor sharp. “I still go to conventions around the country, be it in the north or south,” she relates. And during these conferences, Dr. de Lara touches base with her students from the Manila Central University College of Medicine, where she taught for 29 years before she retired from teaching in 2001.”It also makes me happy when I see my former students who are now doctors themselves and knowing that I have become a part of them and that they still remember me,” she shares.

Apart from attending conferences and having herself updated by reading varied medical journals, Dr. de Lara also gets the chance to continuously share her knowledge and experience with other doctors through scientific meetings and round-table discussions. “I feel elated during pocket meetings wherein they always ask for opinions from the ‘senior group’ she says. “It feels good that even if we are already’aged’, we are still recognized by the younger practitioners.”

However, Dr. de Lara admits that with this ‘seniority’ also come great expectations.”They always seek our opinions so we really have to always be ready with our answers. They expect too much from you. So you really have to be updated, otherwise they’ll think that you weren’t as good as you were anymore.”

Given that this is the case, does her seniority also make her feel threatened by the younger doctors who recognize all her achievements? Definitely not. “Our advantage over younger doctors is that we’ve met so many cases already which make us more experienced.” She relates that this allows them to have that aggressive approach in diagnosing and treating their patients, contrary to the more conservative approach of their younger counterparts.

This, she says, is due to the old-school training that they have received many years ago.”Our training is mostly on physical examination with the use of our clinical eye. Unlike the new doctors today, they tend to rely on machines and laboratories. The thing is, it really makes healthcare for our patients more expensive,” says Dr. de Lara.

She also says that she still gets referrals, even in the dead of the night, making her on-call in an almost 24/7 basis. “I still get called at night or wee hours in the morning if our residents think that my attention is really needed by the patients.” Dr. de Lara, who lives just a few meters from the hospital, shares that whenever she gets a call, she makes it a point to really go. “It’s what we call compassion for our patients. Plus, by taking responsibility, you know that whatever happens, you know that you did your best for your patients.”

Not just yet
Aside from these things, Dr. de Lara also shares that perhaps one of the greatest reasons why she remains very active is because of the hospital and the college. “I want to maintain the hospital, especially since there are still patients who want me to be the one to look after them. Also, as a devotee of Mt. Carmel, I really want to maintain the Mt. Carmel Hospital.”

Dr. de Lara shares that before, she actually does not know how they came about with the hospital’s name. She realized later on that it actually reflects the name of everyone in their family: Cynthia, Aileen, Ryan, Mila, Ethel, and Lamberto. Her two daughters Aileen Cynthia and Ethel are doctors themselves, while Ryan is a nursing graduate. “I think I have named the hospital right and it feels like Our Lady really gave it to me,” shares Dr. de Lara.

The Mt. Carmel Medical Center progressed from a clinic with 10 beds in 1980, to a secondary hospital in 1986 with 25 beds, and to a 100-bed tertiary hospital this year.

The first patients of the then clinic were actually Carmelite sisters from Guiguinto, Bulacan. Which is why Dr. de Lara wishes that if ever there would be a change of ownership or management of the hospital (which is highly unlikely at this point),”I hope that at least the name will be retained.” But in the meantime, Dr. de Lara says that she’s still very much in charge of the hospital.

“That’s why I know that it’s still not time for me to retire. I am yet to find my successor!” Dr. de Lara exclaims. She also explains that until now, she hasn’t had a vision of her’retired version’ since she still does not know to whom she could hand over the hospital to since their children are also trying to establish their medical practice. “I really want to have someone whom I can train on how we run and set-up the hospital and the college like the way we did.”

Dr. de Lara adds that while she still can, she would like to train and mentor more students and younger residents. She believes that in order for her to be truly successful and leave a meaningful legacy, it is important that she be able to share the knowledge, training and experience she has accumulated through the years of her service. She emphasizes, “It is only as we develop others that we permanently succeed.”

And even when the time comes for her to finally pass on the hospital and the college—which are only two of the many legacies they will leave for their patients, the hospital and college staff, and the people of Bulacan—Dr. de Lara says that she will still carry on with her practice, even if it will be on a ‘semi-retired’ basis.

“Our patients have been an integral part of our hospital and our lives,” she shares. “I would like to continue serving them and attend to their needs and welfare. Without them, the Mt. Carmel Medical Center will not be a reality.”

By Geralyn A. Rigor

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