Relocating Roots

by Jubaida Aquino, MD

Lizel is a life peg (a term millenials coined to label someone you admire and would like to emulate). She has achieved so much at a very young age: graduated cum laude in Psychology from the University of the Philippines in 1991; earned her degree in Medicine from UP-PGH in 1996; took residency training at East Avenue Medical Center Department of Ophthalmology where she served as chief resident during her senior year; afterwhich, she went to Clinica Barraquer in Barcelona thru a grant from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation in 2002 where she completed a Masters in Anterior Segment and a Fellowship in Cornea at Institut Universitari Barraquer. At a time when most Filipinos train in America, she chose the road less travelled and decided to go on an adventure in Spain. She pushed her limits, went outside her comfort zone, and got to where she is today. Read more about this lady eye doctor who just might inspire you to go beyond your borders.

Please give us a brief background of who you are, professionally and personally, as it relates to the endeavor that you pursued. ​

I am a cornea and ocular surface specialist working in the Barraquer Eye Center in Barcelona Spain. Married to Juan Elizalde Alvarez de Toledo, also an eye surgeon at the same eye center. I have a 7 year old daughter who speaks 4 languages. 

What made you go outside the confines of your practice or explore beyond your comfort zone, whether geographically or professionally? ​

I think it was destiny that brought me here since I knew how to speak Spanish because I was such a big fan of Ricky Martin back in 1984. It was in 1999 when then chief of External Eye Disease Service, present chairman of the DOH-EC, Dr. Rey Santos  asked me to accompany him to pick up an important Professor from Spain who was a guest speaker at the Asia-Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology Convention. I served as his translator for the duration of the convention. At the end of his stay Professor Joaquin Barraquer (RIP) offered me to come to his eye center. I got a scholarship from the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo and got to do an observership, which turned into a fellowship. 

What were the struggles you had to go through to make your endeavor successful?​

I did the Spanish written and oral practical exam in General Ophthalmology to have my title as an ophthalmologist recognized by the Spanish Ministry of Health. That was hard because everything was in Spanish!! 

If you had the chance to turn back the clock, what would you do differently? ​

I would not change anything as I am really happy and fulfilled practicing at one of the top eye centers recognized internationally. I also get to give lectures here and abroad.  Not to mention the fact that I have found my "family" here in Barcelona. In 2008 I became a part of the consultants of the same eye center that has both a clinical and academic arm. 

What are your plans in the future? ​

My plans in the future are to give back to my alma mater, teach and share what I am learning in this highly specialized institution , especially in the field of keratoprosthesis (a road less travelled by). 

Do you have any advice for those who want to pursue other stuff beyond the daily grind.​

My advice is to always give one's best in everything we do as a physician, as a mother, as a wife, etc. As the saying goes in the Mu Sigma Phi Sorority of the UP College of Medicine, "you get back as much as you put in". 
Also, have a hobby which keeps you distracted from your profession (in my case it is singing with our band) and do charity work (here we have the Barraquer Foundation where we do cataract expeditions in Africa). Life is not measured by how much we have achieved, but by what we have been able to give to others.

If you want to know more about Dr. Lizel, click on this link to read about her life in Barcelona

About The Author

Jubs started in eFP as an Institutional Correspondent when she was a 1st year resident at EAMC Eye Department. She loves taking selfies, though she never posts the pics. An advernturer and free-spirit at heart, she enjoys long road-trips even to parts unknown.