Dr. Arturo

St. Luke’s Global City Medical Director

Security Bank client since 2011

Dr. Arturo thinking back to his days in his hometown of Tanauan, Batangas

“There is a connection between healing and art,” says Dr. Arturo Dela Peña—Medical Director of St. Luke’s Global City—while gesturing towards his favorite painting hoisted on his office wall.

Dr. Arturo has been a surgeon for 30 years but his fascination of art goes beyond admiration. He muses: “If there’s going to be a fire in the hospital, this is going to be the first thing that I’ll save! [laughs]” The painting reminds him of himself—his journey to success and the challenges that he had to overcome.

“It must be providential that I got this painting…This is a story of a person, a child, and his journey of becoming a doctor.” The painting depicts a poor child clutching stethoscopes while watching his friends play. “There’s a lot of sacrifice…They ask the child to join but he refuses because he has to study a lot,” he adds before starting to reminisce.

The good doctor had a rough childhood but he claims it to be the source of his motivation. “We were a very poor family when I was young. My father was a farmer in Batangas.” Everything changed one fateful afternoon as he was helping his father get copra.

“I was 10 years old back then. When we were walking down—as I was carrying a sack of copra—I fell face down on horse manure. I started to cry. I remember being angry at my father because he won’t stop laughing and I finally told him to stop. My father said: ‘Arturo, if you do not study hard, your children and your grandchildren will be like me. You will be just like me and you will have to work with manure.’” Those words turned his life around. He became an achiever, finished his studies and climbed the ranks.

When it comes to success in the medical field, Dr. Arturo emphasizes good clinical outcome and great patient experience. For him, this maxim holds true even in other industries. “With Security Bank, I get the best service I can get from a financial institution.” He continues to rave about his experience with the bank. “When we were opening an account… It was the overall experience that we got…So ano pa? Bakit ka pa lilipat?

After the interview, he shows us his collection of knives—he purchases one in every country he visits—and his bonsai tutorial books. If art and healing truly had a connection, then Dr. Arturo Dela Peña—or Dr. Art as he’s known by his peers—stands at the intersection.

Who is Dr. Art?

He is a poor farmer boy who rose through the ranks. It was not my dream to become a doctor. It just so happened that one of my uncles who has a small hospital in the province in one of the family gatherings told me: “Why don’t you take up medicine?” Nobody then among his children were taking up medicine, so he suggested to me that maybe I should take up medicine because nobody is going to take over the clinic, so it started as that. It stuck into my mind.

We were taught by our parents that the only way to get out of the “poverty line” was through good education. It was just fortunate that I received some scholarships and also partly because my father was recognized as a guerrilla during the World War II and he was given some educational benefit program. So I used some of it.

How did a farmer’s son turn out to be the medical director of St. Luke’s Global City

The pivotal part in my life happened when I was grade 4. I was 10 years old and very sickly—I had asthma during that time.

I was helping my father get copra from a mountainous area. When we were walking down—as I was carrying a sack of copra—I fell on my face. And when I got up, several horse manure were sticking out of my face. My father was laughing and I cried. He asked me why I was crying and I told him: “I fell down yet you’re still laughing.” And to cut the long story short, he told me “Arturo, if you do not study hard, your children and your grandchildren will be like me. You will be just like me and you will have to work with manure.

If I’m going to recall all of my moments in my life, it all turned around during that time. I became an achiever, I studied very hard and nothing has ever distracted me because I always try to do my best. Up to college, medicine, residency, to my practice, that was my guiding principle. It’s also a combination of hard work, dedication and passion to do the things that you love to do.

Since you brought it up, what do you love to do?

Certainly because I am a doctor, I love to treat people in the way of my specialty which is doing surgery. So as the saying goes, we like to cut up people [laughs] in order to cure them and help them of the disease that they are suffering from. I became a surgeon because to me, doing surgery creates an immediate impact on patients. For example, if you have some condition in your abdomen which is causing abdominal pain, you remove the cause and immediately the patient gets well.

For some other specialty, you tend to give them medicines and you try to wait whether it’s going to take its effect or not. That’s what I love about what I do. Sometimes we have long-standing diseases that when you treat them, you try to monitor your treatment—ang tagal diba.

In some situations, it becomes so difficult, that at the time that you do surgery, whatever you do the outcome is the same…they’re going to die.

So how do you deal with certain difficulties or failures in your field?

In some situations, it becomes so difficult, that at the time that you do surgery, whatever you do the outcome is the same…they’re going to die. But then it still gives you stress. After you do the operation, you remove it from your mind. When you go home, don’t bring all of those things to the house, to your family. It gets harder if you do that. You just try to relax and shift your personality when you go home.

But isn’t surgery also more stressful at the same time?

It is a more stressful specialty because sometimes, in many situations, if you make the wrong decisions, then certainly the outcome would be tragic. When you do the operation, you try to focus on so many things that you are doing. And those situations give you some stress.

What makes medicine different from other professions?

If you’re an architect or an engineer and you’re constructing a house, you can more or less predict the amount of cement up to the last nail. It’s an exact science. But medicine is not.

There are always 3 components: the patient, the disease treatment and the doctor. You can always standardize the treatment and you can standardize the doctor but the patient is always variable. Patients react differently to the treatment so the treatment should always be tailored to the patient. And you cannot choose the patient.

There also seems to be some truth in some situations wherein doctors can play gods to their patients. But before you can make life-and-death decisions, you must be fully-equipped and you get that through experience. When you enter medicine, you don’t know anything and they gradually teach you the basics—the normal—and then teach you the abnormal. Knowing the normal and the abnormal will give you the basic foundation on how to treat patients. Medicine is turning an abnormal situation to a normal situation.

The practice of medicine is basically pattern recognition. In my last 30 years, maybe 70% of the diseases have the same pattern and the same treatment. But in the 30%, the presentation is different and that will separate the men from the boys in the practice of medicine.

In your three decades of experience, what would you say is the highlight of your career?

The ultimate crowning glory was when I was appointed chief resident by the department for our batch—I became the primus inter pares (first among equals). Meaning to say, you are the king of the crop. I was also allowed to take the Diplomate early—an exam after the board exam—so after I finished my residency, I was immediately absorbed into the department of surgery.

After practicing for only 11 months, they sent me to Japan to specialize in a particular field that was not yet available here. Fast forward and I became president of the Philippine College of Surgeons in the Philippines. That’s probably the ultimate aim in our specialty. And before that I also became the chairman of the Philippine Board of Surgery who give examinations to surgeons who have finished their training.

How did you find out about Security Bank?

I became a client out of necessity. In addition to the professional fee that we get from out patients, I also receive a salary from the hospital. That salary was deposited to the bank. And because of convenience I got in Security Bank, which was just inside St. Luke’s.

I was not yet the director of the hospital when I became a client of Security Bank—I was the chairman of surgery. So we got an account to consolidate the funds of the department.

The manager would even visit the clinic. There was a time when they were the first one to provide a credit card terminal machine to the clinic. They gave us one for free! And then the branch manager went to our clinic and offered that particular service without us even asking. So ano pa? Bakit ka pa lilipat?

You know, it’s the comfort and the ease that you can do all of these things. At the end of the day, I get the best service I can get from a financial institution.

How is your experience with the bank so far?

Just like wherever you go in any business, it’s the service that is important—it’s the importance that you give to your clients. Security Bank gives importance to their clients, which is also the motto of St. Luke’s. Just like in any business, it’s the service that’s important and it’s the same with banks also.

If I have to withdraw, all I have to do is call. If I need dollars, I just call the bank “Can you give me 3,000 dollars? I’m going out of the country.” They would say “When?” I’ll say “Friday.” On that Friday, I get the money.

You know, it’s the comfort and the ease that you can do all of these things. At the end of the day, I get the best service I can get from a financial institution.

What’s next for Dr. Arturo?

I’ll go back to farming. I’m a farmer by heart.

I’ve started already. My father is still alive—92 years old—and my mother just died last year. When she died my father went into depression. What I did was I bought a piece of land in our hometown of Talisay, Batangas. It was a communal property with my brothers and the adjoining lots with my cousins. So I bought out their share and consolidated them to put up a farm.

I put up a small bahay kubo and my father stayed there, and he became stronger. I guess it was his distraction. Nagtatanim siya up to now—he’s still a farmer. Also for me, the problem every country in the world will meet is food production. As the population of the world becomes bigger, you have to feed all of them. So maybe I’m going into food production—fruit trees and vegetables.

Any advice for aspiring doctors?

I still do teach in the UP College of Medicine. I tell them that the advantage in UP is that it has the biggest charity hospital in the Philippines—PGH [laughs]. Therefore, in every patient, you should be meticulous in trying—interview them, examine them and watch them because through the years you will accumulate those experiences.

But there should be an altruism in doing so. See, practically you use the patients for practice so you must develop that habit or trait of caring for your patients as if they were your own family. You must develop a single standard of treatment. And you must be thankful to all of these patients.

I have this social justice in me that tells me that those who have less in life must have more privileges. You use them for practice so you should be thankful. You should treat them to the best of your ability and must be able to go the extra mile for them. That should be the attitude.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Photography by John Eric Diaz Eudin

Just like Dr. Arturo, you can find success with Security Bank.


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