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Despite odds, cancer survivor passes physician licensure exam

The road to becoming a licensed doctor is no easy feat. Sleepless nights and countless exams lie ahead for those who wish to take the profession. However, University of the East Ramon Magsaysay graduate Gian Placino had to face a heavy challenge towards achieving his ultimate dream: cancer.

Despite facing the demands of internship, board review, and cancer treatment all at once, Placino managed to pass the November 2020 Physician Licensure Examination (PLE) on Thursday, November 26.

While in the middle of his post-graduate internship on January 28, he was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma–a form of cancer that attacks white blood cells in the lymphatic system, which helps the immune system get rid of waste and fight infections.

The cancer forced Placino to take a medical leave from his post-graduate internship at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and place his plans to take the physician licensure examination on indefinite hold as he was required to take 6 months of treatment including chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 

ROAD TO HEALING. Gian Placino receives treatment for Stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma.


“I must say that the day I found out I had cancer was one of the saddest moments of my life… Becoming a doctor was all I ever wanted to be and when I was so close to becoming one, cancer took hold of the dream, or so I thought,” Placino said. 

Coming from a family of cardiologists and anesthesiologists, being a doctor became Placino’s ultimate dream as he often witnessed the immense gratitude his relatives’ patients always expressed when they were well taken care of.

“Nothing really beats that ‘thank you’ from the patient after you selflessly take care of them,” Placino said.

As cases were starting to rise, medical interns were pulled out from hospitals and instructed to take online classes to finish their internship. Hoping to continue pursuing his dreams of becoming a doctor, Placino reached out to the Philippine General Hospital to see if he can rejoin the internship, as the online classes will allow him to keep up despite his current condition.

“This led me to inquire since I was safe at home and was privileged enough to have stable wi-fi...Gratefully, PGH approved my request to rejoin, and I was able to finish my online classes in between my chemotherapy and radiotherapy,” Placino explained. 

Fortunately, Placino was officially in remission on July 9, giving him enough time to study for the PLE. He recalled studying while waiting for his turn in getting positron emission tomography (PET) scans and appointments with his doctor at the time. 

Managing to defeat cancer and pass the PLE, Placino hopes to take his journey one step at a time and apply for an anesthesiology residency program.

Facing different ups and downs this year, he advises aspiring doctors to persevere and surround themselves with close family and friends to help them in enduring difficult times.

“Surrounding [myself] with people who will support [me] throughout is what kept me going in my journey, especially with cancer,” Placino said.

"Taking this year's PLE wasn't even a possibility because of my cancer. To have been given a chance to finish my internship and take the exam was already a miracle. Now I beat cancer and I passed the PLE!" he added. –

Russell Ku

Russell Ku is a Rappler volunteer from the Ateneo de Manila University. He is a senior taking up Bachelor of Science in Communications Technology Management. He’s currently an Inquiry staff writer for The GUIDON.