Sunday, September 1, 2013

Asian Medical Students’ Conference (AMSC) 2013 Experience

Timothy L. Tang Lee Say, M.D. 

       I never planned to attend the AMSC 2013 from the very beginning, but I am truly grateful that I did. It all started from urgings of my good friend, an AMSA enthusiast, who have attended almost every international activity even up to the point when we are already in our internship year.  To tell you frankly, I was never an active member of AMSA. I seldom attend meetings and gatherings of our organization. Let us just say that I have different priorities when I was in medical school. I consider being absent in class for this kind of conventions to be “not worth it”. I mean, when you get back to class, you will have to make up for lost time, quizzes need to be taken, lectures read, you have to study twice or thrice than your usual pace to cover what you missed. I am a very academic person in my medical school life and the only “active” extracurricular organization that I am present most of the time is the events of the Filipino-Chinese Catholic Youth (FCCY) organization.

Figure 1. The seven delegates of the Philippines to the AMSC 2013 – Malaysia. From left to right: Joyce (from Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila), Kath, Paul, Alena, Charm, Manny and Tim (all from University of Santo Tomas).
       At first, I had second thoughts on being a delegate in AMSC 2013, my parents and close friends wanted be to focus on my licensure exam and ace it, but I dug down to myself to know if I really wanted it or not.  Thankfully, I feel that I have already prepared for the licensure exam in medical school, and confirmed that I will be attending. I was thinking that I can spare 8 days for the 3 months given to us to study for the exams. Until the finality of it all, I was told that a lot of medical students backed out in the last minute since they felt that what they will missed in class is too great. There were only 7 of us who pursued the endeavour to be a delegate in this year’s convention.  It was sad but understandable because if I were in their shoes, I might have back out. In fact, when I was in their shoes, I never attended any conference except those requiring me to represent the school. It was hard for us at the beginning since seven people will prepare everything from plans of the cultural night, cultural booth, paper and poster presentations. We had to give up doing the paper presentation because of time and man-power constraints.

            Then, the time has come for the departure, I packed my luggage, brought some materials to study and I’m off to the first international conference of my medical school life. I went with a co-delegate to the airport, studying while waiting for the plane to board, and that is the first and last time, I opened my books. When we arrived, there were a lot of delegates. The hosting AMSA members were very courteous and I can see how they are all so organized and planned out every minute detail but are still are at the mercy of delayed flights and unexpected early arrivals.  I am astounded on how beautiful the scenery is, and how clean and traffic free is the route to the hotel. 

Figure 2. Group 21 during the cultural night. From left to right: Top: Andrew (Singapore), Eugene (Malaysia), Undra (Mongolia), Dongjae (Korea), Sneha (India), Jingyao (Taiwan), Andrea (Hongkong), Thansapol (Thailand), Keiran (Australia), Ethan (Taiwan); Middle: Timothy (Philippines), Yeesin (Malaysia), Midori (Japan), Ruby (Taiwan), Jiraporn (Thailand), Brian (Hongkong); Bottom: Rachael (Korea), Mikyung (Korea) and inset: Annie (United Kingdom)

       When we arrived, I got to meet my group moderators (GM) who were constantly reminding us and giving us advice in Facebook pre-conference.  I met all my group members from different countries and cultures.  Little do I know that we will share such a wonderful experience and friendship that will last a lifetime.  For me, the best part of the conference is being with my Group as we have more intimate encounters with each other than with other delegates of the conference. Sharing with each other stories, views, and playing silly games are all part of the bonding process. I can distinctly here my GMs shouting “Group 21” right now. We shared memorable moments together.  There was even a member of our group who got drunk for the first time. That is an unforgettable memory as it is. We grew closer and closer with each passing day, and though, not all the activities are exciting by itself, it becomes so, my being with my group.  I realize that for these kinds of conference, we should try to attend every activity prepared and not be bothered so much with things as sightseeing, shopping or studying for missed classes or exams, there will be time for all these, post-conference.  We should focus on the experience of the present, since it is after all what we came for.

 Figure 3. Food during the Welcoming Party at Palace of Golden Horses.

       The welcoming party at the Palace of Golden Horses was great, and the food was very delectable. One of things that a person traveling must do is sample the local dishes, and all I can say, that I got that and more during my stay in Malaysia. I tried to taste as much as I can all the food presented to us during breakfast and dinner.  With my voracious appetite, I gain weight in 8 days even if I do my daily 10 km jogs in the vicinity of the hotel.  Thankfully, I recovered and I am back to my previous weight.  The Street Food fiesta, Daily Breakfast Buffet, and Sumptuous Over-Flowing Dinner Celebrations are more than enough to sample the different flavours Malaysia has to offer. My stomach, at least was very happy that I decided to come to Malaysia.

            On the next day, we had a series of lectures regarding the incoming tide of community medicine, it was informative for me how well the structure of health care in Malaysia is compared to my home country, no wonder they are close to becoming a developed country. I am also happy that one of the speakers, a retired WHO doctor took up her masteral degree in my alma mater, the University of Santo Tomas, at least, the health care education in the Philippines, is very competitive, especially that English is used as the main language of instruction even in our formative years. The Philippines does not have a shortage of brilliant minds, if only we could eradicate the rampant corruption in our government, I believe, that we too will become centers of excellence in the different fields of learning. I was very inspired by the one of the Professors who is a practicing otorhinolaryngology, a previous dean of a medical school, and an active researcher in the field of otology with feats such as cochlear transplant or ear cartilage regrowth from stem cells.  I realize that I also want to be a health practitioner, holding positions in the academe, being active in research work and to contribute to the betterment of healthcare. The only difference with me and the professor is that for him, the most important organ of the body is the ears, but for me it is the eyes. Kidding aside, I really like the lectures that showcase refocusing primary health care, which is what is needed in these modern times.

 Figure 4. Group 21 during community work.

       The community field work was also a wonderful experience. I did a lot of community work in the Philippines during several of my rotations.  The rural areas are always in need of doctors to take care of the community.  I do believe they have the hardest jobs since they not only have to take care of the totality of the health of each person but also they are task to empower the community and should deal with community-based problems and they need to do that without all the sophisticated equipment available in the cities. A good solution to the problem of shortage of doctors in the community is to either to encourage doctors to serve communities through incentives or better yet, offer a scholarship to one promising member of the community with the agreement that he will serve the community after graduation.  I realize that the problems of community medicine in my country is very similar here although, they seem to have better funding.

            The paper and poster presentations were an important part in any medical conference for it showcases the commitment in research, as young as we are, researches done should be published. I remember that the research I’m most proud of was my research paper in my undergraduate course in Biology focusing on the development of an immunodiagnostic kit for house dust mite and cockroach allergy. I hope to do more research in the future. I hope that the Philippines can showcase our own research papers in the future AMSC, and I fervently hope that more Filipino medical students can come to the future conferences.

 Figure 5. The Philippine country booth.

       The cultural booths were a huge success. We handed out flyers and the ever so famous dried mangoes. The favourite among the delegates is the Philippine’s own native coconut wine. We were very busy manning the booths. Since there were only seven of us and one should stay explaining the poster presented, there are only six of us who prepared and entertained guests for the booth. In order for us to also get in touch with the cultural side of other countries, we take turns by twos to explore the country booths. Four people manning it at a time, and two going around the other booths; it was exciting and tiring at the same time but it was worth it.  I really enjoyed seeing the intermixing of cultures.  The cultural workshops in Malaysia are very informative. Malaysia is a mixed culture with both Malay and Chinese characteristics with added flavour from the United Kingdom.  The Philippines is a mixed culture too, from the original Malay settlers, the Chinese traders, with the Spanish and American colonists. My first experience comes from seeing the word “Pintu” in the airport, which actually means door, the Filipino term for which is “Pinto”. The population of Southeast Asia have very similar traits and it is quite amazing to go out of one’s country and discover the similarities when one goes to another.  

The cultural night was the best presentation I’ve ever seen.  The best ones are from countries with a lot of delegates.  I really like how the theme goes for most of the cultural presentation; they start with old traditional dances to the latest modern mixes such as KPop for Korea and Anime for Japan.  We also presented “Pandanggo sa Ilaw” in the first half and a modern Filipino dance “Papaya” and “Cha-Cha” in the latter half.  This shows that culture is evolving.  It was an exhilarating experience.

Figure 6. Group 21 in KL City Tower.

The tours were few but it highlights the most iconic building in Malaysia, the KL City tower.  The man-made lake in Putrajaya was also a great feat of the Malaysian government. It was a really huge lake.  The Genting Highlands was also nice place to relax with a cold weather.  Although, we didn’t do much sightseeing, I was happy with my stay in Malaysia.  That just means that I will come back in the future as a proper tourist to go sightseeing in the beaches and other famous places.  Thank you very much for AMSA-Malaysia for hosting such a wonderful conference especially the AMSA-Malaysia members who worked hard in the background, making sure that all things work out for the delegates but have little chance to get to know the delegates. I actually got to know some of them. I hope they will be given the chance to interact with people in the future.

When the convention ended, I was saddened since I may never get to see my new found friends again. We made a Facebook group and promise to get in touch and see each other again in the next AMSA convention. Going back to reality, as a graduate medical doctor, awaiting for my license to practice, this AMSC 2013 will be my first and last convention as a medical student. Though, it saddened me that I will no longer attend conventions such as this, this once in a lifetime experience is more than enough and I will cherish it all my life. I hope to see my friends again when I visit their respective countries in the future.  I just realize how great an organization AMSA is. It bridges the gaps between borders united by the common goal to provide health care to the people, promoting camaraderie among future doctors.  I hope that I will not be the last graduate medical student to attend an AMSC.  I think if the medical student AMSA members are not able to attend conferences, slots should be given to those who graduated, yet are just about to take the board exam, to experience an AMSC.  I believe that it will benefit us all, and it will help fill in all the slots given to the Philippines by AMSA International, and in effect more Filipino doctors are able to experience this kind of activity and be made aware that there is camaraderie between doctors from different countries in Greater Asia.  I am thankful to my friend for inviting me and encouraging me to join and I’m thankful to my local chapter of AMSA for allowing me to be a part, even just for one event, an AMSA experience.


  1. The East Asian Medical Students’ Conference, is an annual seminar hosted by various cities around East Asia. At its inception, it aimed encourage representatives to become active in the improvement of global healthcare issues through networking with other medical students from the East Asian area. More recently, it has expanded to involve representatives from all AMSA-International chapters permitting the exchange of concepts, information and cultural understanding. The EAMSC endures to encourage medical students to analyses global health problems more closely and to utilize the role of medical learners in the promotion of public health. Life experience degree programs challenge students to think beyond what is learnt at university through numerous educational and cultural activities which explore a nominated seminar theme.