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  • Lynne Lourdes Lucena, MD

Service above self: A neurosurgeon’s journey



Service, challenge, mystery! My life has revolved around these keywords, as I journeyed deep into Neurosurgery, a challenging surgical specialty dealing with the mysterious brain, spinal cord and the diseases that afflict them.

Service, challenge, mystery! My life has revolved around these keywords, as I journeyed deep into Neurosurgery, a challenging surgical specialty dealing with the mysterious brain, spinal cord and the diseases that afflict them.


It was never my intention to become a neurosurgeon. I had envisioned myself as a cardiovascular surgeon, but the “road less travelled” beckoned when the former chair of Neurosurgery UP-PGH, Dr. Faustino Domingo, ardently convinced me to enter the fascinating and intriguing world of Neurosurgery.


The adventure of service above self started with Neurosurgery residency. Sleepless nights fueled by six to eight cups of brewed coffee, 72-hour duties and missed meals were all part of the training and experience. It ensured that patients were cared for and operated on time, and surgical rounds and voluminous tasks for almost a hundred patients per day were finished by the stroke of midnight.


The never-ending influx of brain and spinal cord patients ranged from brain injury from vehicular accidents, strokes or “brain attacks”, diseases of the nerves, brain tumors and congenital problems like hydrocephalus. They provided me with the neurosurgical armamentarium to start my practice in the Bicol Region where I hailed from.


The advocacy to promote brain and spinal cord health came naturally with my profession, as did the accompanying challenges.


As a 29-year-old female freshly graduated neurosurgeon, I was looked upon with doubts and curiosity regarding my ability to operate on the brain. Age, gender and experience biases were the obstacles I had to conquer with a lot of patience, perseverance and sincerity.


The absence of neurosurgical instruments and trained personnel were also part of the challenge. Thus, I had to bring my own craniotomy instruments and train nurses and resident doctors on neurosurgical patient care.


As the first female president of the Rotary Club of Naga, I instituted road safety awareness campaigns and conducted lay fora on brain and mental health issues. I went from island to island, speaking about emergency neurosurgical care to my colleagues.


Accepting the position of Chair of the Philippine Board of Neurological Surgery, Inc. was another way to promote my advocacy. It also provided a chance to give back with gratitude to the best training that I had by ensuring the best neurosurgeons become diplomats and fellows of the Academy of Filipino Neurosurgeons, Inc.


A smile from my patient, a student or resident of mine graduating to become the best doctor he or she can be are the rewards I cherish and look forward to. If I can make one patient or person feel or heal better every day, then I have succeeded in my ultimate advocacy to help improve lives.


The Leadership Journey made me see things more clearly with regards to my purpose and advocacy, and I gained added confidence to go out of my comfort zone to pursue my goals.


What’s next? It’s more learning for me; more giving, more writing, publishing and teaching. My brain still tingles with a lot of challenges and mysteries, and I am ready to serve with all my life!

Lynne Lourdes Lucena, MD, is a neurosurgeon who practices in her native Bicol region. A prolific poet and writer, she peppers her social media page with reflections on life and her profession. She is a Leadership Journey (LJ) alumna and the vice president of the LJ Batch 3, who call themselves Team Bugsay. She was invited to share her leadership story during the 8th run of LJ last June 2016.

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