Doris A. Mendoza

Dialogue with an Adventist professor of medicine in the Philippines

Doris Mendoza is one of four children born to an Aglipayan (Philippine version of Catholicism) father and a Methodist mother. Although she was baptized as an infant in a Catholic church in Manila, Philippines, she was greatly influenced in her growing years by her mother’s religious fervor and devotion, and eventually chose to be a Methodist. From her early years, she was quite studious and absorbed as much as she could from both within the classroom and outside. Her interest in various cultures and religions motivated her to explore the world around her.

Before her medical education and clinical training at the University of the Philippines, she did her pre-medical studies at Mindanao State University, where she made many Muslim friends and learned about Islam. Her pediatric cardiology specialization and fellowship took her to Kyoto University Hospital in Japan, where she was exposed to Shintoism and Buddhism. Later, as a Mashav-Israel scholar for pediatric cardiology fellowship training in Israel, she learned to appreciate Judaism.

After her education, she spent almost 25 years in the pediatric clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital, a Catholic hospital in Iloilo City, Philippines. During this time, she got an opportunity to join the mentorship and observation program in pediatric heart transplants at the Loma Linda Medical Center and International Heart Institute. At Loma Linda, she was exposed to, and immersed in, the Seventh-day Adventist lifestyle and Sabbath keeping.

A few years later, Dr. Mendoza embraced the Adventist faith. Currently, she is helping to establish the first Adventist Medical College on the campus of Adventist University of the Philippines in Silang, Cavite. While serving this proposed institution as dean elect, she continues to work as a full-time professor of medicine and consultant for pediatrics and pediatric cardiology at the College of Medicine of West Visayas State University and Medical Center in Iloilo City.

Professor Mendoza, when did you become interested in medicine, and what motivated you?

To be a doctor was my dream from childhood. The very first Filipino lady pediatrician, Dr. Fe del Mundo, was my pediatrician throughout my childhood and teen years. As I observed how she took care of her patients, the urge to become a doctor became part of me. She was a very brilliant doctor. She graduated at the top of her class at the premier College of Medicine of the University of the Philippines, at a time when men dominated the medical field. She was so patient, gentle, compassionate, and sweet. She became my role model, and from elementary school I focused my life on becoming a doctor, specifically a pediatrician.

What are your current responsibilities?

After taking the physicians’ licensure examination in 1976, I was assigned to the Philippine province of Iloilo for rural service training. It was a government requirement then to send medical graduates to underserved rural areas for six months, while waiting for the physicians’ licensure exam results. While working there, the dean of the then newly-established West Visayas State University College of Medicine contacted me to join the college as one of the faculty. So straight after my internship and rural practice, I joined the medical faculty. Although I come from Manila, I accepted the invitation to work far away from home; I have been on the faculty there since 1977, and am happy to have contributed to the growth of the West Visayas State University College of Medicine.

I have worked in different capacities in the college and am currently serving as chair of the Unified Ethics Review Committee of the university. I also serve as a pediatric/pediatric cardiology consultant in the university hospital. After my first year of teaching, I asked to return to the University of the Philippines — Philippine General Hospital Medical Center for Pediatric Residency — but still remained connected to the school. While there I had upgrading, and later I received fellowship and observation opportunities abroad. Currently I hold a rank of professor V in medicine, a top rank in the Philippines educational system. Since our medical college uses a problem-based curriculum, I teach all subjects in the faculty of medicine.

Would you say that there are those who look to you and are influenced to be like you?

I thank the Lord for the privilege of influencing others for good in the past 35 years that I have taught and practiced medicine. When former patients and students come back to visit me now, they bring their children and introduce them as my grandchildren. One indicator that they appreciate my contribution to their medical education and/or state of health is the fact that many of my patients became my medical students and are now my medical colleagues. In fact, many of them became very efficient, conscientious, and compassionate physicians when I myself was a patient with lifethreatening illnesses. Having my previous medical students as my present personal physicians, and being able to entrust my life and survival to the hands of former students, is the most rewarding feeling a teacher could ever have. I consider them “jewels in my crown,” so to speak. It makes my life and teaching career worthwhile.

With a background that includes exposure to many different religious persuasions, how did you end up a Seventh-day Adventist?

My religious journey is a long one. First, I was baptized in the Catholic church as a child. But because of my mother’s commitment to Jesus, her strong spiritual life, and her witness as a Bible woman, I was attracted to the Methodist Church from early childhood. During an evangelistic crusade, at the age of 12, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, and was baptized. When I moved to Iloilo City, I discovered the Baptist faith, and was convinced that immersion is the biblically-prescribed baptism. So for the third time, I was baptized at one of the beautiful beaches of Iloilo. But then came my discovery of Adventism.

As a teacher, I usually come across students from several religious persuasions, but one group of students was rather unique. Every time an examination was scheduled on Saturday, this particular group — the Adventists — would approach the college administration for exemption from taking exams on Saturday. These students would not even attend classes on Sabbath. Being a person of conviction, I was touched by their stand for a religious principle, and always pleaded on their behalf with the college board to grant the exemption, on the grounds that it is a good thing to honor one’s religious beliefs. This was the same scenario practically at every promotions board meeting in the early years of the college, until eventually, the Adventist students won out, and the college finally decided not to conduct classes or give exams on Saturday.

This oft-repeated scenario strongly impacted me. I asked myself, what is it that makes these students so strong in their faith, that they can refuse to take exams, placing their future in such jeopardy? Why were they so staunch in keeping what they believed to be God’s holy day, in contrast to others who didn’t care about keeping Sunday holy and treated it as any ordinary working day? I was truly intrigued and impressed. We did not have the Internet at that time, so I went to the encyclopedia and read about Seventh-day Adventists. I learned a very basic biblical truth: the seventh day is the Sabbath.

Then, you began to keep the Sabbath and joined the Adventist church?

Not so fast. In 2003, I had a cerebrovascular stroke and was bedridden for weeks with severe left-sided weakness. As I was regaining my strength, breast cancer struck me. After surgery, six courses of chemotherapy in six months, and a year of oral maintenance treatment, cancer of the uterus was diagnosed, which required another major surgery, followed by several weeks of radiation treatment. During all this time, my faith stayed firm and my life was anchored resolutely to my Great Physician, the only person who could completely heal me. Bed-bound for more than two years, I had time for real communion with God and to do in-depth study of the Bible. One day as I was surfing for good TV programs, I discovered the 3ABN channel, and heard Doug Batchelor, Shawn Boonstra, David Asscherick, and many others. I discovered that these Seventh-day Adventist preachers were presenting the truth according to the Bible, in a way I had never been taught before.

One day, when I was recovering and regaining my immunity, I went to the mall with family, and while others were shopping for different items, I went to the secondhand bookstore. I found a book with a beautiful cover and the title Legacy. As I flipped through the pages, the first thing that caught my eye was the chapter title on neonatal heart transplants. Being a pediatric cardiologist, I bought the book and took it home but did not read it immediately. When I eventually read it, I discovered that it was about Loma Linda University Medical Center — an Adventist institution. I was excited and read the book all the way through.

After reading it, I e-mailed all the heads of departments listed in the book. After a few weeks they began replying and eventually responded positively to my desire to go on a mentorship program and observe Seventh-day Adventist doctors attending to their patients and performing their duties.

I got a sabbatical from my university and arrived on the Loma Linda campus in December 2006. While I was there, the university chancellor, Richard Hart, invited me to give the morning devotion before the first board meeting for 2007, and I shared my story with all the trustees. I was introduced to Richard Schaefer, the author of Legacy. He said something like this: “So, now I know. You are the reason I have not retired, because something kept holding me back. I had to meet the person who would be brought to Loma Linda through my little book.” The university was fascinated by the story, and we were both interviewed by Loma Linda Broadcasting Network, where I gave my story again to TV viewers.

Dr. Gerald Winslow, one of my mentors and who directed my stay, wanted to baptize me right then, because he saw that I had mastered the 28 Adventist fundamental beliefs, and I was fast becoming an Adventist in my lifestyle. But I said I must return to my Baptist congregation in Iloilo, Philippines, in which I was the founding head deacon and leader, and share with them my newfound truth. Otherwise, if I returned to my congregation after being baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist, they might feel betrayed and just shun me. So I returned as a Baptist, preaching about the Sabbath and the Second Coming whenever the opportunity arose. While the pastors and the rest of the congregation would not be swayed from their beliefs, two of the top leaders were convinced, and the three of us were eventually baptized as Seventh-day Adventists about three years from the time I returned from Loma Linda.

In the Philippines, when was your first contact with the Adventist church besides your contact with the students?

Early in my practice, the family members of one of my pediatric heart patients were Seventh-day Adventists. Whenever the child was brought to the clinic, his mother often left Ellen G. White books like Steps to Christ. She never directly tried to convert me, because she knew I was a leader in my church. When I came home from Loma Linda, the university sent me copies of the university newsmagazine Today, featuring the article about me. When this Adventist mother came to my house one day to invite me to a vegetarian cooking lesson, I happily gave her a copy of the article, and she was ecstatic. She had in fact been praying for me all along to find the Bible truth. When the time came to look for a church home, her church was one of the ones I went to. I have been actively involved in that church ever since.

What advice would you give to young Christian professionals in general and Seventh-day Adventists in particular with regard to their stand and relationship to God?

To Adventists, I would say they are in the right church, the true remnant church, and they should never succumb to peer pressure or compromise their faith. God is able to take them through whatever challenges or difficulties they may be facing, including classes or examinations, or any kind of job requirements. Those who are not Seventh-day Adventists, but are Christians, should continue seeking for the truth, and never give up studying the Word of God. When convicted by God’s truth, they should not resist and should not wait for miracles, like mine.

We understand that you might be transitioning from your current position to the Adventist University of the Philippines, which is in the process of establishing a medical college.

It is a big challenge for me. I had plans to retire from teaching at my present medical school in 2015. Suddenly this unexpected invitation from AUP came. I am still coming to terms with this change, and fix my schedules in two different islands and two different colleges, as I am already involved in the preparations for the forthcoming opening of the AUP College of Medicine. Although I will miss my work of 35 years in Iloilo City, I believe that God has led me to this challenge of a new job. I did not seek it, but I believe God wanted me to be in this new medical college for His purpose. Everything will unfold in time. I trust this medical college at AUP will fulfill God’s mission not only in the Philippines but also in other parts of the world.

Do you have any final words?

While still in the Baptist church, I organized revival meetings where we used to have all-night prayer gatherings. One prayer I made was what I would call a “dangerous prayer.” I asked God to do His will in my life, and said something to this effect: “Whatever it takes, Lord, break me into a thousand pieces, and mold me back together again in the image you would like me to become.” This was my dangerous prayer. A few months after that prayer, I fell deathly sick and went through a series of medical catastrophes. But God had transformed me into a “wounded healer.”

My advice is: don’t utter a dangerous prayer unless you truly mean it. Praying is a serious business, and therefore always be ready if the Lord answers your prayer the way you asked. It was good that I meant my prayer with all my heart, mind and soul, so God empowered me to overcome the series of trials that befell me. Someday, at the end of life’s journey, I look forward to meeting face-to-face the ultimate “wounded healer,” my beloved Savior who was wounded for my transgressions, and with His stripes I have been healed. Praise be to Him!

Hudson E. Kibuuka (D.Ed., University of South Africa) is an associate director of education, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. E-mail: kibuukah@gc.adventist.org.

Dr. Doris A. Mendoza may be contacted at docmendz@yahoo.com.