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Dr. Raul Jara: The Blueprint of a Great Teacher

On Tuesday, Dr. Raul Jara, a renowned cardiologist and an influential teacher, passed away because of COVID-19. We are republishing this piece, originally written in 2013 and updated in 2019, as a tribute to the legacy of Dr. Jara, with permission from the author.

If there ever was a common thread that perfectly wove itself into the vibrant and colorful lifeline of Dr. Raul Diaz Jara, then it would have to be composed of these three fibers: wisdom, fortitude and gratitude.

Born into a family of achievers, Dr. Jara already imbibed a wisdom-seeking philosophy that shone through early on in his journey for knowledge, being a consistent honor student during his entire undergraduate life. His thirst for learning led him to finish as Doctor of Medicine at the University of the Philippines (UP) and graduate from the UP Philippine General Hospital Cardiology training program which he recently headed as Chief.  His passion for the art and science of echocardiography later steered his path to the Philippine Heart Center, where he once became head of the Non-Invasive Diagnostic Cardiology Division. On top of his academic pursuits, Dr. Jara’s brilliance shone through even in the administrative arena, as he secured a Career Executive Service Rank VI from the Civil Service Commission of the Philippines, and eventually became Department Manager of the Department of Education, Training and Research of the Philippine Heart Center.

His exacting brand of excellence is well known, and sometimes even feared, by students and trainees in cardiology.  He will probably go down in history as one of the most (if not THE MOST) visible Consultants in the training institutions that he becomes affiliated with, pioneering or personally handling the weekly hemodynamics conference, congenital hour and echocardiography hour at the UP PGH and the Philippine Heart Center.  His mere presence during conferences can send either shivers down an unprepared presenter’s spine or waves of adulation from a promising protégé.  No clinical detail was too inconsequential to be mentioned, no question too mundane to be asked.  For him, the field of medicine was not meant for bystanders, but rather for those who actively pursue its truths and boldly face its controversies.

Beyond academic excellence, Dr. Jara demonstrated the fortitude that enabled him to earn the much-deserved respect of his mentors, peers and students.  At a time when echocardiography was still at the stage of infancy, Dr. Jara pursued learning in this field with much vigor and determination.  There were no elaborate and advanced machines that solved equations at superhuman speeds or generated 3-dimensional images with great clarity and precision.  Cardiac diseases were diagnosed non-invasively using only the seemingly abstract linear patterns produced by M-mode as well as the inquisitive and imaginative mind of the echocardiographer.  Dr. Jara had to contend not only with the crude echo images but, more importantly, with the logistical constraints that came with the limited availability of such technology in the country.  Undaunted by this scenario, he negotiated with Dr. Camilo Porciuncula (Far Eastern University) to allow him to bring his patients for cardiac imaging, escorting them through numerous roundtrip jeepney rides.   It is this same kind of fortitude that enabled him to bring the country into the spotlight when he managed to obtain hosting rights and successfully organize the 2010 World Congress of Echocardiography and Vascular Ultrasound in Manila.

Dr. Jara’s passion not only for teaching but for advancing the education of his students was manifest particularly during his stint as Chair of the Education Committee of the Asian Pacific Society of Cardiology from 1995-2004.  Through his leadership, the country was able to send 7 Filipino Cardiology trainees to the Victoria Heart Center at Epworth Hospital in Melbourne, Australia during a period of 4 years.

Despite being highly-decorated as an administrator, clinician and academician, Dr. Jara rested not on his own laurels but gratefully recognized the significant roles that certain people played in his life.  Always keeping one foot on the ground, he never failed to acknowledge the ageless counsels of Dr. Ramon Abarquez, Jr. (Professor Emeritus, University of the Philippines) and Dr. Rody Sy (UP Philippine General Hospital), the steady friendship and support of Dr. Nelson Abelardo (UP PGH Section of Cardiology) and Dr. Romeo Santos (Philippine Heart Center), as well as the collegiality of Dr. Jun-ichi Nishikawa (Osaka University), Dr. Tsuguya Sakamoto (Tokyo University) and Dr. Navin Nanda (Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Cardiovascular Disease, University of Alabama Birmingham).

Dr. Jara’s efforts to enlighten his students and colleagues regarding the art and science of echocardiography became more manifest through his lectures, researches and publications.  His speaking engagements traverse cultural and racial boundaries, ranging from simple lectures on rheumatic heart disease at the UP College of Medicine to keynote speeches during World Congresses and Conferences in Japan, Brazil, Pakistan, Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, China, Morocco, USA, Greece and Australia.  Despite his hectic schedule as Chief of the PGH Section of Cardiology, Dr. Jara was able to publish 2 books in a span of one year, tackling the basics of echocardiography as well as the intricate issues in adult congenital heartdisease.

Beyond the seemingly intimidating façade, however, is a true family man who draws constant comfort and strength from his beloved wife Lenny and beautiful children.  Such a deep sense of gratitude has motivated him to continually serve his alma mater, the UP College of Medicine, as one of the many heroes who toil with no financial compensation.  Working tirelessly as a “WOC,” however, has its intangible remunerations—the smile of an indigent patient at the ward, the simple thank you text message of a previous student, the accolade of equally renowned peers, or even the fulfilling thought that a lifetime of indebtedness may be partly paid by the selfless service that he offers the University.

Not all people in their lifetime have the great fortune of encountering such unique individuals who demonstrate a rare combination of qualities worthy of emulation.  This book on echocardiography comes out at the most opportune time, as it not only attempts to share knowledge with its readers, but also allows us to pay tribute to the teachers that have molded our minds. I have had the extraordinary privilege of personally knowing and experiencing Dr. Raul Diaz Jara.  Our paths serendipitously crossed and, to some degree, eventually aligned during the course of my training in cardiology.

Through his example, he has unwittingly given me a sneak peak into the blueprint of a teacher in the truest sense of the word–Ateacher who strives for wisdom to attain mastery of the craft; a teacher who toils with fortitude to answer the difficult questions that lie ahead in his path; and a teacher who moves with gratitude to inspire his students in the pursuit of their own dreams.