Ronibats.PH Stories of a Filipino neurosurgeon, teacher, and writer

Excerpts (Where I Got Extra Money When I Was a Medical Student)


“Bats, tinawagan ako ng Student Affairs. Mag-submit lang daw ako ng requirements.”

“Ha? Bakit ako hindi tinawagan? Paano nangyari ‘yun?”

I was talking to A, my classmate in the INTARMED program. It was the first month of our first semester and we were on our way home. From UP Manila, we took the same bus, his stop 30 minutes before mine (or 60 minutes during Friday night rush hour). Also a class valedictorian and Oblation scholar, he would become my roommate and best friend in medical school.

Some days he would bring his car to school. During these times I would hitch a ride and he would drop me off where our routes home diverged. Sayang din ang sampung pisong tipid sa pamasahe.

When he told me that Student Affairs was offering him another scholarship on top of Oblation, both of us were puzzled why I did not receive a similar call. His annual family income was higher than mine, he had a car, and his two siblings were both studying in the same posh high school where he graduated. I needed financial assistance much more than he.

“‘Tsaka mas maganda ‘to sa Oblation kasi puwede hanggang clerkship libre ang tuition. Tapos 2.5 lang ang maintaining grade. Hehe.”

The Oblation scholarship is awarded to the top 50 UPCAT examinees each year. In my time, the scholarship provided free tuition and miscellaneous fees, a monthly stipend of 2,500 pesos, and a semestral book allowance of 2,250 pesos. However, it only covered the first four years of the seven-year INTARMED curriculum, and the recipient would have to get a general weighted average of 2.0 or better each semester to maintain the scholarship.

“Tumawag ka kaya sa Student Affairs?” he suggested.

“Sige, sino ba hahanapin ko?”

He gave me the contact details of the person in charge of the scholarship, before we resumed what would eventually become a ritual exchange of life stories interspersed with challenging each other’s answer to exam questions, in an effort to pass time while we both stood in the bus aisle, holding on to the rails, silently cursing Manila traffic.

I called Student Affairs the next day and was told that they might have overlooked my name and would consider my application.

A week later, I received a return call: my second scholarship was approved, I just needed to submit my father’s most recent income tax return form. This scholarship would subsidize my tuition till I finished medicine in UP, and from it, I received an additional stipend of 1,200 pesos monthly.


IT WAS ENROLLMENT PERIOD for my second year in INTARMED. Late enrollment period, to be more precise. That way, I avoided the long queues for a minimal 50-peso penalty.

A beaming Miss L greeted me when I went to her office at Student Records to get my transcript.

“Uy Ronnie! Congrats! Ang galing-galing mo talaga!”

She handed me my transcript and delivered the good news: I obtained the highest general weighted average among all first year students. I would receive a certificate during the UP College of Medicine opening ceremonies, and with it, a check amounting to 10,000 pesos.

“Naku Ma’am, thank you po!”

She would congratulate me again for achieving the same feat in the succeeding year, and would be the first person to find out, ecstatically, that I made it to the cum laude cut off for the degree in Doctor of Medicine.

Miss L is no longer a clerk at Student Records, only because she is now the college’s administrative officer. Last time I went to get something at UP College of Medicine, I made it a point to drop by her office for some casual conversation, to update her on what has happened since I graduated, and also to remind her how she had always been kind to me from the start.


WHEN I WAS A FIRST YEAR MEDICAL STUDENT, I stayed in an apartment owned by Mrs. J, a loud woman who shouted at her maids too often, too early in the morning that I almost never needed an alarm clock to wake me up daily. I would rent bed space in her compound for only a year, before finding a cheaper and quieter place to live in with three of my classmates.

I would always be grateful to Mrs. J for one thing, however.

“‘Di ba magaling ka sa math?” she said in a text message one night.

During her sales talk when I was looking for a place to stay in, she kept asking probing questions. I think I might have mentioned winning regional math competitions in high school. I also told her, intentionally this time, that my family had been having financial difficulties of late because all five children were in school; she was kind enough to lower the rent from 3,000 to 2,750 pesos per month.

“Opo,” I replied to her message.

“Are you interested in tutoring the swimming mate of my son? Will give his mother your number.”

That was how I met Mr. and Mrs. S, and their children B1, B2, B3, and B4.

From then on, once or twice weekly, after a day’s worth of lectures and laboratory work, I would walk four blocks and cross Taft Avenue to knock on the steel doors of the Chinese family’s home. I would wear the simplest pambahay and bring nothing but my keys and Nokia 3310 so as not to attract hold-uppers on my way to their place and back.

At a starting rate of 200 pesos per hour, I gave B1 extra lessons in high school math. We would spend at least an hour, at most two, on his study table either to review topics he failed to understand in class, or to discuss future topics which he’d have to review on his own for the periodic exam because my schedule could not accommodate his tutorial.

“Kumain ka na ba? Sabihin mo ang totoo!” his father would always ask in the most intimidating of voices when I arrive for B1’s lessons.

Of course I never dared say no. Teaching B1 always meant having dinner with Mr. and Mrs. S and their children. So even if I spent only an hour teaching, if you compute the money I would have spent for dinner in a fastfood restaurant, sulit na sulit na. And I would have to say that they served the best home-cooked Chinese noodles with the most abundant, luscious toppings. During Mid-Autumn festival, I always brought home moon cakes, and during Chinese New Year, well, what else but tikoy.

I would teach B1 math until he finished high school, and it was but natural progression that I reviewed him for his college entrance exams. Even after 30-plus hours of going on duty in the hospital as a clerk or an intern, I would find time for his lessons. I occasionally taught B2 and B3, too (B4 being too young to even care about x and y). During summer and Christmas breaks, Mrs. S offered to pay for my bus fare to Manila and back. Eventually, she raised my fee to 250 pesos per hour.

It was a good thing that when I decided to move out of Mrs. J’s compound, the apartment my classmates and I rented until we finished medical school was just across where the S family lived.


I WAS 15 MINUTES LATE for my lunch appointment. This was unprecedented. In the last eight years, I had always been first to arrive at our designated meeting place.

Mrs. A was at the reception area when I walked into the Japanese restaurant. She put her left cheek next to mine in welcome, and I returned the gesture with a hug.

“How are you?” she said, dangling earrings on both ears and a chunky yet elegant bracelet on her wrist. Her smile exuded graceful aging.

“Mabuti naman po.”

She led me to a walled off section of the restaurant where we found Mr. A already seated, helping himself to a slice of the tuna sashimi. He stood up and extended his right hand, which I shook firmly, and then I gave a polite nod. I took the seat on his right side—as always, owing to his impaired hearing on the left ear—and Mrs. A sat across us.

“Pasensya na po, na-late ako.”

“It’s OK. We understand,” Mr. A said, “Patients first, of course.”

His calm and collected tone contrasted well with the jubilance of his wife’s. Wearing his polo barong, he would still go to his office after our lunch. At 72, he had told me many times before that he would feel weaker if he were to stop working.

“O sige na, order your food,” Mrs. A handed to me the menu, “Their gindara here is good. You should taste it.”

And like the many times before this, I scanned the menu for the most sumptuous items that I would not have otherwise ordered because of their prohibitive prices.

The elderly couple were my benefactors when I was in medical school. This was how we met:

The duration of the 2,500-peso monthly stipend from my Oblation scholarship was only till fourth year INTARMED (second year med proper), so I had to find another source of allowance from fifth year till internship. When I wrote about this financial dilemma in my old website,, an anonymous reader posted a comment:

Try to contact MC of (UP Med Class 20xx)
if you are interested in a scholarship.

I could not let the opportunity pass, so I did. MC’s mother, Mrs. C, introduced me to Mrs. A, and one afternoon in a Mediterranean diner in Makati, I met Mrs. A for the first time.

If you did not know her, she would easily fit the stereotype kontrabida mother-in-law in telenovelas. In the beginning, I was fidgety as I shared my family’s plight and my simple aspiration to become a doctor, for fear that she was scrutinizing every word for its veracity.

“So how much do you spend in a month?” she asked.

I gave her the tabulation of expenses that Mrs. C asked me to prepare beforehand. Mrs. A scanned the piece of paper before folding it and putting it in her handbag.

“Sige, our secretary will just text you, and then we’ll schedule lunch or dinner with my husband.”

She smiled. Just like that, the kontrabida mother-in-law evolved into the most tender lola.

Since then, once or twice a year, Mr. and Mrs. A and I would meet somewhere fancy, and I could eat anything I wanted as they listened to my stories about what I did, before as a medical student, and now, as a physician. That was all they asked in exchange for the 5,000-peso allowance that their secretary deposited to my account every month. They neither asked for receipts nor demanded an accounting of the money. Food, books, clothing, transportation, movies—I had absolute freedom so spend the allowance wherever I wanted.

When I took an elective course in neurosurgery in New York during clerkship, they gave me 300 US dollars for pocket money. And when I finished cum laude and third in class, my graduation gift was a check with a generous amount in it.

As hard as it may seem to believe during the most difficult of times, there is never a shortness of kindness in this world.

About the author

Ron Baticulon

Ronibats is a pediatric neurosurgeon, teacher, and writer. In 2018, he won a Palanca award for the title essay of his first book, "Some Days You Can't Save Them All," published by The University of the Philippines Press. You can follow him on Twitter @ronibats.


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  • I agree. There will always be someone who is so kind enough to help us through our studies. 🙂 I also struggled paying for my tuition while I was an undergrad at UPCP. But with the help of some kind relatives and with my earnings from my business and writing jobs, I was able to finish school. 🙂

  • i love your story you’re an inspiration .. a little bit similar to mine but what i did during my time was to join in so many contests where i could earn an amount though sadly at times books are the prize and trophies, that were flooded and gone by typhoons and storms hahaha.. “diskarte lang talaga and prayers … and madaming paraan to reach our goals in life .. do not limit yourself and when you reach your goal pay it forward naman … i am proud of you ! Bless your heart ..

    • Hi Nida! I also joined a logo making contest (Php 7,000) and an oratorical contest on heart disease (I wrote the piece, but somebody else delivered it, so we split the Php 15,000 prize money). Masyado na kasing mahaba if I were to include them. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  • Very inspiring po Dok! Naalala ko din yung raketera days ko sa UPM, hehe. Tutor dito, S.A. doon, usher dito, writing job dun! At sa awa ni Lord, nakatapos din!

    Salamat sa inspiring stories mo Doc. More power! God bless po! 🙂

  • bravo doc! the story of becoming “YOU” is really amazing!… hope to see that my only son become as well as you…He wants to be a Neurosurgeon someday. WE are in a class D family… but your story will really inspired us not to discourage our present situation to continue dreaming…I always tell to my 3 children that this is not our final destination…in their hands with the help of our Lord…their story begins…

  • Been reading your blog every once in a while. Your journeys are really inspiring. I hope my students get to read your stories and inspire them to pursue their dreams in spite of all the difficulties this life has to offer. Cheers 🙂

  • I can totally relate. I experienced the same financial difficulty when I was in college, looked for scholarships, tutored elementary and HS students in the neighborhood, sold merienda, washed clothes… I want my children to read your story when they get older. Thank you for the inspiration.

  • bakit ngayon ko pa nakita tong blogspot nyo dok!? lol thank you sa blog na ito. you inspired me po. all due respects to you and your family’s hardwork and dedication. continue to be an inspiration to others. – vic

  • sir Ronnie your story is so inspiring. I used to work in PGH OR, i left 2011 and moved here in the US. I remember you as a first year resident your very serious, i never really seen you smile..your lil bit intimidating hehehe. akala ko anak ka ng mayamang Chinese lol! anyway, i love reading your blogs very very inspiring Doc.

  • Ang galing mo po, saludo po ako sa sipag at determinasyon mo. Deserve mo po kung nasaan ka man ngayon and ang swerte ng mga patients mo! Sana matalino rin po ako huhu pano ka po nagtututor? I mean ang parang ang hirap po nun

  • Hi Doc (and maybe your readers/followers too)! I’m an incoming CM student who doesn’t want to burden his parents with additional expenses. This might not be related to this post, but can you give us some suggestions where to have budget friendly meals (50-60 php/meal preferably) near UPCM? As I was browsing through internet search pages, more often than not, 80-100 php meals are considered “cheap”. From where I come from, I can squeeze my 100 pesos into 4 meals if I needed to. Hahaha! These are hard times, and med students like me need to be as thrift as possible. Transes pa lang, ubos na pera.

    • Hello I! I reposted your question on Twitter. Hopefully we’ll get good responses. Madalas ako nun sa mga carinderia sa Guerrero. May ihawan din sa Orosa (tawag namin kantunan) na masarap sa hapunan. 50 to 60 pesos/meal is good enough in PGH canteen, which is located on the 2nd floor. See you in August! 🙂

  • Grabe, Kuya/Doc/Sir, you truly are an inspiration not just among us hoping to be MDs soon, but also to other people striving hard to do well in their studies! Wow, I’m so glad I came across your blog po. Keep being an inspiration po! Hoping that I get to possess your skills and discipline as I read through your stories. I cannot put to mind how amazing you are po, honestly. Thank you!

    From a first year medical student who is having a hard time coping with the demands of being one

  • Thank you so much for sharing this, Sir! I am a sophomore BS Bio major in Ateneo and I am also enjoying two scholarships (DOST and Ateneo). I feel like I am underperforming in contrast to my high school self. Perhaps the trashy system of k12, with us being the first batch a.k.a. the lab mice, made me incompetent and not-so-motivated. I barely learned anything new and now I regret not self-studying. Because of this, the last time I can recall when I really learned and loved chemistry was when I was in Grade 9. Very poor foundation ko in Gen Chem tapos diretso Analyttical Chem pa kami as prescribed by the curriculum committee in my freshman year because they compressed what used to be 5 years into 4 years, Yes, I still passed the big four universities and I got scholarships with allowance (maintaining grade of 2.5 and no F or 2Ds) but I just feel tired all the time. My classmates are taking their leave of absence one after another due to mental health issues and the atmosphere has been so dull and depressing. It’s so gloomy. I am so afraid that one day I wake up and lose my passion and dream of saving lives someday just like how you do. I haven’t flunked any course but I am not satisfied with “sakto lang” and I feel like I can do more but I lost the confidence and motivation to do so. I kept on hoarding copies of books but I barely open and read them. I begin studying and then I go behind because I now easily become distracted and lose my focus but I know that deep inside me, I still really want to become a doctor. I know that I still care because I really cram to learn everything kahit wala na taaga akong oras kasi nakatulog ako and ‘di ako nagising sa sarili kong alarm. How did you keep your focus to meet your goal (to learn in order to save lives), despite the negative atmosphere, distractions, and manipulative and bad peers (which I guess wala ka naman yatang naencounter)? Paano niyo po ginagawang bumangon nang may motibasyon?

    Another question rin po hehe :))
    Which reading technique is healthier and more effective? Using digital or physical books? Pagod na pagod. po kasi ako palagi and pag-uwi ko after enduring the heavy traffic.I live two hours away from ADMU and next sem I have biochem class from 6:30-8:00 pm so syempre kakain pa ako ng dinner so 10 pm the earliest na yung dating ko sa bahay but then I have to wake up at 4:30 again for my 7 or 8 am class. Ang hirap po kasi magbasa ng readings kapag gabi na and sumsakit talaga ulo ko kapag naman sa sasakyan and ako nagbabasa ng ebook, so natutulog na lang ako.

    Pasensya na po,ang haba huhu. I also hope that one day I could sit in your class and listen to your lecture. 😀

Ronibats.PH Stories of a Filipino neurosurgeon, teacher, and writer