By Denice Dinsay
Past all the nerdy stereotypes we have grown up watching on our screens, Dr. James Lee redefines "nerd" beyond his specs and adorable chinito looks. This magna cum laude graduate from UP Diliman is all about being well-rounded. Aside from being an ophthalmologist, he is also a clinical professor at UP. Yet despite all his accomplishments, he admits he still has so much to learn. Think Superman as Clark Kent, a sidelined journalist trying to conceal his great heroics. That said, we’d definitely want to be his Lois Lane!
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On a scale of 1-10, how geeky/nerdy are you?
“I’m probably more of a nerd, I think. I think I’m 80 to 90% nerd. You wouldn’t really find me in places where most people hang out. I really prefer the quiet places, I prefer quiet dinners with my friends, maybe it’s because of the age but I was really like that ever since before. I went out a little bit in college but not as much as other people.”
What sparked your interest in your current field?
“Actually, I really wanted to become a teacher after college, but then my dad convinced me to become a doctor so I became a doctor and all the time, I was exposed to the different fields of medicine. It was kind of like an elimination of choices, then I ended up with ophthalmology and I realized that though the eye is very small, you know, it’s very complex and it works differently than the other parts of the body and then, I got into ophthalmology and then I realized that I liked working with children so I delved further into that, subspecialized in pediatric ophthalmology which is a field where a lot of ophthalmologist don’t like because it’s not that easy to examine children especially the eyes. Right now, I think we’re only 39 pediatric ophthalmologists in the country. It’s a good thing that it’s not something I forced myself to do, so I really enjoy my time doing it and studying about it. Now with my private practice, I’m actually enjoying what I’m doing. It’s a good situation that I’m in right now. It opened new doors for me actually because we’re not really that much so, I wouldn’t say that it is in demand, but a lot of eye centers and hospitals are looking for pediatric ophthalmologists and so, it’s a good thing for me.”
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Who is your role model in the industry and why?
“I have a lot. I can name a few. When I was training at PGH (Philippine General Hospital), we had a lot of good mentors there like Dr. Reuben, the Chairman right now, Dr. Norman Aquino. I think it’s not what they know, cause there are a lot of really good people in their respective fields but I really respect them in how they deal with their patients and the kind of practice that they have like in a world where money is really everything, you’d see people who are not into money and you respect them because they treat their patients well, they are ethical, those are the qualities that I really look up to. It’s not really about earning so much, but more of the character and how they treat people, and how they are with or without their patients, how they are with younger doctors like me, and how they treat us. That’s really the thing that I admire about my consultants in PGH.”
How do you use your smarts to your advantage, career-wise?
“Interestingly, ever since I was in college, a lot of people don’t really think I’m smart. My first impression usually is like, ‘Wala, I’m just quiet’ or whatever it is but not really smart. I won’t really strike someone as smart. That’s actually an advantage for me because when you do something and you do it well, and they don’t expect it from you, parang their reactions are twice. I won’t really say that I’m smart but I think it’s more of I’m diligent and hardworking. I think smart is overrated, there are a lot of smart people, but I think the character that you build when you’re studying or working is much more important than what you actually know and a lot of my patients, you know, will see that it’s not, 'Oh, doctor you’re so smart.' But more of 'Doc, thank your for explaining this to me and taking extra time in examining me.' It’s more of character and how you treat them than what you actually have in your head, and if it works both okay, then it’s going to be the greatest.”
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Name your favorite book and why.
“I actually like the Good Earth. It’s an old book, we started reading it in highschool and I’ve read it over and over, I think. First of all, it’s in a Chinese setting. I really like it because it details the story of a man who started from scratch then went up and then, also destroyed his life. It’s also a story of a woman who was always behind that man who learned her way through hardships. It’s more of that the woman was actually the source of strength in that book. It’s a good reminder for everybody, for me actually, to work hard, you get all these things but then getting all these things is just one step, it’s more of how you sustain it and how your actions will actually, can sometimes actually bring you down even if you work hard for it. The importance of other people in your life, it’s not really a one-man show, you need other people. Other people help you up.”
Your favorite movie?
“I can’t think of any. I don’t really watch movies too much. Right now, I really like watching on Netflix (laughs). I like Game of Thrones. On Netflix, I really like The Crown, it’s very interesting for me. I watch Designated Survivor, Riverdale, it’s not just one thing. Right now, I’m watching Breaking Bad. I like Netflix more than going to the movies. I really prefer to stay at home.”
Name your favorite band or artist.
“I don’t really have one at the top of my head. I just listen to random playlists on Spotify. The playlist that I was listening to on my way here was a positive vibes playlist. I just want light music, more of a ballads type of guy, I think.”
What’s your guilty pleasure?
“Staying at home or eating Potato Corner and watching Netflix. I can finish the entire Terra size. Just eating Potato Corner and watching Netflix, that’s perfect for me.”
In catching a girl’s eye, do smart guys have the advantage over sporty guys?
“I don’t think so. Psychologically, everyone starts from attraction, physical attraction, so if you’re asking me if catching a person’s attention by your smarts more than by your look then maybe, initially you catch them more by your look. And then when they find out you’re smart, it’s either they like you even more or some people don’t like smart guys (laughs). Some get intimidated and that’s okay. I think sporty guys get more of the attention, initially. And then, girls end up with the smart guys.”
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On James: Shirt and cardigan, both Bench
Produced by Camille Santiago | Creative direction by Barry Viloria | Photographs by Vyn Radovan | Styling by Gelie Manansala | Grooming by Leonie Galang of MDA | Hair by Ronald Manzano of Vivere Salon | Shot on location at: Chaos, City of Dreams, Pasay City | Special thanks to: Charisse Chuidian, Romina Gervacio, and Fran Arias of City of Dreams | Melanie Acedillo of MDA | Glaiza Agbayani of R2 Group of Companies | Banner image by Lui Jimenez