Dr. Sempio opens doors for OUM in the Philippines

Earl Sempio, MD is a UST man, through and through:  undergraduate, medical student, resident, instructor, attending physician, pulmonologist, technical liaison for the Department of Medicine.

UST is University of Santo Tomas in Manila, one of the most highly regarded universities in the Philippines. Founded in 1611 and Asia’s oldest existing university, the fact that it has been in existence longer than Harvard is a point of pride for faculty and students.

Following a meeting with Philippine medical school deans in 2016 by OUM’s Chancellery, (Dr. Viali Lemeko, Randell Brown, PhD, and Chris Dudley), Dr. Sempio joined OUM’s faculty last year as Assistant Professor and a lecturer for the Respiratory System-Based Module.

Randell Brown, Earl Sempio, Chris Dudley

“Teaching OUM students is a real joy,” says Dr. Sempio. “At first it was difficult, not being able to see their faces—to know if they were understanding what I’m telling them. But then teaching OUM students became this wonderful intellectual exercise because their questions in the chat box challenged me in ways that my students at UST don’t.”

Because many OUM students are experienced clinicians, they encounter patients with the diseases that Dr. Sempio covers in a lecture and ask detailed questions.

“Sometimes, I have to say, ‘let me look that up and get back to you,’” he says, adding that he enjoys the fact that mature students feel more confident about speaking up.

The fact that OUM and UST use different books—“Goldman-Cecil” for internal medicine at OUM and “Harrison” at UST—is an additional challenge for Dr. Sempio.  “Teaching from two textbooks keeps me on my toes. Both are excellent but different enough that I had to learn both,” he says.

In a typical day at UST, Dr. Sempio sees his patients in clinic and on rounds at the hospital, is constantly providing guidance to residents/fellows in training, helping UST faculty master technology, and lecturing to first-year medical students on biochemistry, second-year medical students in physical diagnosis, and third years in medical ethics.

“I can only lecture to 100 students at a time because of the size of the classroom, and we have 400 freshman medical students,” he says. “I really enjoy teaching, so teaching four classes on the same subject does not bother me.”

His OUM lectures occur at 8:00 am, Philippines time, so frequently his OUM work begins his day.

 True to his country

During his training, Dr. Sempio did not do something that most Philippine doctors do: leave the country.

“There seems to be this tradition among Philippine doctors to go somewhere else—the US, Australia, or another country—to validate our parents and relatives. Some even equate success to leaving the country. Basic medicine is the same here as it is in other countries: We read the same books and journals, unless you go into sub-specialties,” he says. “And many of my classmates ended up practicing in America. I did not want to leave the Philippines.”

As a physician, Dr. Sempio does attend conferences outside of the Philippines, recently having returned from a pulmonology congress in Sydney, Australia.

Saved by Karaoke

Dr. Sempio with colleagues in Mindanao

While working on a joint project of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Innovations and Multisectoral Partnerships to Achieve Control of Tuberculosis (IMPACT) project conducting training/workshops on TB disease activity assessment for Philippine physicians, Dr. Sempio was sent to the southern most areas of the country, including Mindanao, which has for several years been a hotbed for terrorist groups recently associated with ISIS.

“Sometimes when it was too dangerous to conduct training in an area, they had to fly their doctors to a safer island where we could do the training,” he says.

While in Mindanao attending a pulmonary convention, he recalls being invited for karaoke after finishing dinner. A few songs later an explosion was heard nearby and a couple of people were killed, including a doctor attending the convention. ( 

“Yes, I can say that karaoke may have saved my life,” he now laughs. “One other time they came to us in the middle of a workshop and told us to drop everything and get to the airport due to a terrorist alert.”

“These doctors out in the country embody what medicine is about. They would walk from one mountain (or an island) to another to read an x-ray and then travel back to the patient with the medicine to treat them. The entire process may take several days for one patient,” he says. “Yes, there were times when we were scared, but we knew we had to do it to help our people. It’s those dedicated physicians in the country who motivated us to make sure we get the word out to them and help for their patients.”

Bringing Filipino Medical Faculty into the 21st Century

Back home in Manila, one of the most challenging parts of Dr. Sempio’s job is helping UST faculty master technology.

“Some are not used to computers and especially using them in education,” he says.  “We use Moodle/Blackboard, just like OUM, but they seem wedded to the way they’ve always done it. I’m frequently able to use my OUM experiences to help them into the 21st century.”

In 2018, Dr. Sempio plans to begin work on a Master of Health Informatics degree so that he can further assist moving UST medical faculty into using technology.

OUM in the Philippines

OUM Vice Chancellors, Dr. Randy Brown and Chris Dudley, attended the 60th anniversary assembly for PAASCU in November, where they gave a presentation about OUM’s unique approach to medical education and accreditation to more than 450 educators from across the country.

Brown and Dudley met with deans of several medical schools in hopes of arranging post-graduate internships, clinical rotations, and faculty and curriculum exchanges.

“We’re going to have some additional opportunities for OUM students in the Philippines,” says Dr. Brown. “It’s only natural since that is where our accreditation home is. We also hope to borrow the talents of some excellent Filipino faculty members like Dr. Sempio.”

They have been invited to return to give a presentation to the Association of Philippine Medical Colleges, when they hope to finalize opportunities for OUM there.

By the way, Dr. Sempio’s favorite karaoke to perform is “Wherever You Will Go.”