It was a dream come true for Fred Lawrence Samante when he ranked 1st in the January 2021 Medical Technologist Board Examination.
A graduate from St. Scholastica’s College Tacloban (SSCT), Samante got a rating of 91.40% and bested 2,835 examinees nationwide.
“It felt like a dream…because the exam was hard. I had expectations that I [would] possibly fail, or that I [would] pass but [wouldn’t] make it to the top. I couldn’t imagine that I would make it to Top 1,” Samante said.
The 21-year-old hails from the municipality of Leyte in Leyte province, and is the older of two siblings. His father works as a farmer and barangay captain while his mother is a public school teacher.
He graduated valedictorian in high school and won various regional science quiz competitions. He then became a member of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and learned to love research in college.
More than just disaster survivors
Back in 2013, his family suffered a major loss after Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) took a toll on their agricultural farm, which was one of their sources of income.
Super Typhoon Yolanda was the most devastating disaster to hit the Philippines in recent history, leaving more than 6,000 people dead and bringing massive damage to Eastern Visayas.
“Our house was partially destroyed, [and] the agricultural damage had a massive impact [on] us, because my father is a farmer and we had a lot of coconut trees. So when all the crops were gone, our source of income also declined. It was devastating. We had difficulty coping after Super Typhoon Yolanda,” Samante said in a mix of English and Filipino.
But the lessons he learned from the disaster also shaped the goals he wanted to pursue: “We were so thankful that God protected us from physical harm, though the devastation was great. I came to realize how fragile our life is, and therefore we need to find ways to protect and preserve it,” Samante said.
He decided he wanted to pursue medical technology and eventually medicine so he could help protect and preserve the lives of others, especially in times of need.
To support his education, he secured full tuition from his school by being a working scholar.
As the lone topnotcher from Leyte, he hopes he could inspire other kababayans with his recent milestone, and that he could show that Leyte is more than just a province struck by a super typhoon. (READ: Medtech board topnotchers: Hard work is key to success)
“Whenever Leyte is mentioned, they’d immediately think of Typhoon Yolanda. And it makes me sad because Leyte has a lot more to offer,” he said.
“I hope that this achievement [makes] people see that Leyteños are also hardworking and excellent – hindi lang po ‘yung mga taong natamaan ng Yolanda (not just those people who were survivors of Yolanda),” Samante said.
Samante draws inspiration from previous Leyte board topnotchers who made great contributions in the field of medicine, as well as his college professors who did research work and joined competitions abroad.
In fact, some of his mentors in the field were also among those who pushed for a coronavirus testing center in the province back in March 2020, to ensure public health and safety in Leyte amid the pandemic. This COVID-19 testing center was the first accredited molecular laboratory in Eastern Visayas.
Determined to pursue his dreams
Like any other journey to success, it wasn’t all smooth-sailing.
Samante recalled how he felt intimidated during his board exam review in Metro Manila, since most of the students came from big universities and colleges.
“Pagdating ko na sa review center, around 300 na ata po kami doon and saka magagaling po [yung mga students from other schools], and yung mga scores nila talagang ang tatataas. So parang napressure po ako doon, but at some point I [felt] motivated to study,” Samante said.
(When I got to the review center, there were around 300 of us, and the students from other schools were really good, and their scores were very high. I felt pressured because of that, but at some point I felt motivated to study.)
But what became more challenging for him was when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown in a bid to control the spread of COVID-19, thus suspending the licensure exams that were supposed to be a few days away.
“I felt like I couldn’t do anything but review. [But it was hard to focus], because [I kept thinking there was] a chance that [the exams] might get canceled again. But a major lesson I learned here is that it’s important to really stick to your goal or your dream,” Samante said.
Hopes to be a doctor
One of the things he did to encourage himself was to recall the importance of medical technologists’ work, most especially now that they are at the forefront of the COVID-19 battle.
Samante added that he wants to pay his success forward by teaching aspiring medical technologists, leading information seminars within his own community, and pursuing research. He also hopes to earn a scholarship to study medicine.
He dedicates all these efforts to his grandfather, with whom he was very close since his parents were often out working.
“When my grandfather became sick, I felt so sad. From that time on, I really told myself I needed to find a way to help him. Then, he passed away. I realized it was too late but I knew I still needed to pursue my dream,” Samante recalled.
“There are times when I would feel like my achievements are pointless knowing that my grandfather is no longer here, but I’d also think that maybe, by helping others, I can make him proud,” he added.
Although he still has a long way to go to fully accomplish his dream, he said topping the board exams means a lot to him, especially as it is a way of expressing gratitude for the hard work and sacrifices of his family, professors, and mentors.
“Roman statesman Marcus Cicero once said that the higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk. And I think, we should always look back and show gratitude to those people who are instrumental in achieving our goals,” he said. –Rappler.com