St. Luke’s Eye Institute: 30 Years and Why

by Raymond Nelson C. Regalado, MD

        “What would you do if we don’t accept you this year?”

        “I would apply here again next year.”

        I still remember being asked that question when I was applying for ophthalmology residency in St. Luke’s.  No second thinking; I intended to show my persistence. Why was I so adamant in not applying elsewhere? Well, during my medical school rotations in the then International Eye Institute, I saw two things that defined them: a heightened passion for the profession, and a very nourishing atmosphere. I was witness to its growth, and at that point, there was nothing I wanted more than be a part of its greatness.

        The Eye Institute owes its present state to those who laid the cornerstone 30 years ago. In 1987, three people who were known to be advocates of Filipino health, Dr. Mario V. Aquino, Atty. William Quasha, and Mr. Jose Ledesma, established the St. Luke’s Department of Ophthalmology. According to Dr. Aquino, the initial vision was to “produce graduates who are comparable to [the] graduates of [ophthalmology] residency training abroad.” Little did they know that small dream would eventually blossom into one of the most influential bodies in Philippine ophthalmology today.

        This article will not dwell on historical facts. Suffice to say, Dr. Aquino’s ambition to provide competent eye care to Filipinos was infectious, and the faculty grew not only in number, but also in stature. Today, I will try to describe how it is to be possible for work to feel like family.

        During medical school, I only had a glimpse of the Institute. In that small window, I sensed the passion its members had for the practice. The residents were not only content in knowing medical facts, but found fulfillment in applying that knowledge to the charity patients they see. Monetary gain was not their concern. The crooked smile under squinting eyes, the homemade longganisa and tinapa lovlingly wrapped in newspaper, the “Ayan na yung doctor ko” whispers of pride along the corridor – those were the residents’ testaments for success.

        This passion during training also ingrains in them a certain sense of debt to the Institute. Most alumni find their way back, either as visiting consultants or active faculty, voluntarily incorporating teaching future colleagues with their private practice. This, I think, is one of the most underrated measures of success in any department. If a graduate admits a duty and responsibility to the continuation of their training institution, then that institution has served a very noble purpose. It is not all about producing intelligent practitioners. The quality of graduates is also shown in their willingness to give back and groom the future.

        Working in St. Luke’s creates world-class standards that all practitioners must aspire to achieve.  The Eye Institute is no exception. According to Dr. Ruben Lim Bon Siong, the immediate past head of the Institute, “[we] adhere to the highest standards in health care delivery as exemplified by the JCI Accreditation and [being a] member of the Mayo Clinic network.” As proof, the Eye Institute has been recognized with an Excellence Award in a Team Category by the medical center in its 2016 Anniversary Dinner.

        Achieving awards and recognitions seems to be the norm here.  It’s not really just about the quality of the eye doctor that makes up the roster; there are lifetime awardees, medical and ophthalmology board topnotchers, subspecialty leaders, PAO presidents, Rizal Memorial speakers… This list could go on. The secret to this success, basically, is that this unending list of achievers inspires the lot.  It’s rarely about personal achievements. The Institute stands for sharing talents, and this generosity not only stays within the ranks but also extends to every eager ophthalmic mind.

        Enough of academics. To be able to get a complete picture of what the Eye Institute is about, all you have to do is to ask around.  Most people can pinpoint who’s from St. Luke’s with three basic categories: by the extreme degree of obsession in talent contests, by the hoarding of wine in social activities, and by how late they leave the PAO Fellowship Night. To be called social butterflies seems to be a compliment and an accurate description of how down-to-earth, fun-loving, easy-to-get-along-with St. Luke’s ophthalmologists are.

        In the 30 years of its existence, the St. Luke’s Eye Institute has been a constant entity in all things ophthalmology.  Dr. Jay Vicencio, the newly appointed head, points out that “the Institute will figure more prominently as a center for excellence in training and in research.” The next years will be nothing less than a promise to continued excellence in eye care, commitment to social responsibility, and more elaborate dance numbers.

        In celebrating its Pearl Anniversary, the St. Luke’s Eye Institute has a number of activities lined up. To start, we had a private screening of “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2” at Robinson’s Magnolia. It was followed by the first ever “EyeBowl,” a bowling tournament held in Eastwood. It was a very well received event, with the Southern Tagalog Society of Ophthalmology bagging first place. Next is the “kEYEinan na!,” a 2 day food fair to be held within the grounds of St. Luke’s. The summer outing in Subic comes after, dubbed “Solar Retinoparty.” One of the biggest events this year is the much anticipated book launch of the Retina Handbook, headed by Dr. Pearl Tamesis-Villalon.  The 4th International Eye Symposium “Eye on the Future’” organized by Dr. Yvette Santiago and Dr. Gary Bunagan, will be held next at St. Luke’s Global City. ( To cap off this momentous year, the Eye Institute will hold its anniversary dinner, “The Great GatsbEYE,” at the Wack-Wack Golf and Country Club.

        The past 30 years have been good for the Eye Institute. And by all indications, the following years will be no less.  With Dr. Vicencio as the new head of the Institute, only excellence lies in the future.

        “Why did you choose to apply in St. Luke’s?”

        “Because greatness has a place. And that place is here.”




About The Author

Raymond Nelson C. Regalado, MD is specializing in Cornea and External Disease at St. Luke's Medical Center.