Text by Donna Künzler, images from Anne Solomon
Dr. Anne Silao-Solomon was born and raised in Mandaluyong City, Philippines. She has been living in the USA for 17 years now. She is currently the Medical director for Capital Caring in the Western Loudoun and Arlington regions of Northern Virginia. Anne has been named as one of the Top Doctors of Northern Virginia for 2 consecutive years (2021 and 2022). She is happily married and has 2 children. During her spare time, she runs marathons and ultramarathons.
In this article, Anne shares her inspirational story of migrating to the United States and the ultimate task of maintaining a work-life balance as a doctor, wife, mother and runner.
Moving to the United States and Family Life
With her dad having his own medical practice in the Philippines, it was a general expectation that Anne would take over the practice one day. However, fate had something else in store. Anne recalls, "It was never my plan to work in the U.S. but somehow, I had a sense of adventure in my 20s that I wanted to pursue my own independence in another country. I was inspired by a friend to take the USMLE (US medical licensing exam) and eventually got into a residency program in the U.S."
Seventeen years on, the U.S. is now home for Anne and her family. She and her husband Carlo, also a Filipino, a U.S. Army veteran and a firefighter at Fairfax County Fire and Rescue squad, have been married for 16 years and have two boys: Avery (11 years old) and Cal (9 years old).
Raising children in the U.S. is definitely a challenge especially when the parents have highly stressful and demanding jobs. Anne narrates, "What I noticed is that when we are both at home, we rarely talk about our jobs. We try to decompress by walking around the neighbourhood, going to restaurants, doing household chores together, watching TV, and planning for our next getaway. I think that the daily, mundane things in life are our happiest moments. We are both exposed on a daily basis to death and dying that every single day that we share together, we consider it as a gift."
Anne and Carlo are doing a great job as both kids belong to the gifted and talented program in their school and have black belts in Taekwondo. Anne shares, "It is a delight taking care of these little humans. We try to incorporate Filipino values that we feel are admirable such as placing importance on family, paying respect to our elderly, prioritizing education, and hard work. We immensely enjoy traveling as a family during the kids' formative years as we feel that the world is the best classroom where they can derive inspiration and knowledge."
Hospice and Palliative Care as a Profession
Anne was first exposed to the field of hospice and palliative care during her last year in residency and decided to pursue it as a career. Anne recalls, ‘I was drawn to it. Hospice and Palliative Care was not a field (back then) in the Philippines — I wanted to learn more.’ She admirably has been in this field since 2010.
As per Anne, "Hospice is a specialty consisting of interdisciplinary team members that provide care for those with life limiting illnesses. Palliative care is a more general term that is helpful at any stage of a serious illness to help with symptom management and to help patients understand their choices for medical treatment.’ As a Medical Director, Anne leads a team of nurses, social workers, chaplains, and bereavement counsellors to develop a comprehensive plan of care for patients that have serious or life-threatening illnesses.
I agree with Anne that the concept is still foreign to Filipinos. She elaborates, "I feel that we are still a death denying society, that we try to avoid talking about end-of-life care, preferences at the end of life. Most Filipinos lack any advance care planning so when a medical crisis occurs, most family members panic and eventually make decisions that are burdensome to their sick loved ones."
It should be noted that this medical field applies a holistic approach to patient care. Anne explains, "I look at the whole person, I don’t ask just about the physical problems and pains. I ask about the multidisciplinary support."
Anyone who meets Anne and learns of her work would most likely feel sympathy, pity, or curiosity as this medical field deals with terminal illness and death daily. Despite the general perception that her field is full of glum, Anne shares that the rewards are more profound. "When people ask what I’m doing, most of them get that sad look and say, 'God bless you… I don’t know how you do it.' What I tell them is that it is immensely fulfilling and enriching, that you get to experience things most people do not get to experience, a connection with life which is life-altering in the most positive sense."
For those who are interested in the development of Hospice and Palliative Care in the Philippines, you can read it here: https://www.pshpm.org/our-history.
With a demanding job and family life, it’s important for Anne to de-stress and do what she loves: running.
Anne started running when her kids were still toddlers, initially to lose some of the postpartum weight but eventually began liking the energy that she felt and has not stopped since. She further expounds, ‘It's been my refuge, my anxiolytic. It is where my emotional, mental, and physical needs are satisfied. No matter how overwhelming my day is, it somehow reassures me that everything will be alright.’
Anne has set some ambitious running goals for herself: 1) run the 6 major marathons (NYC, Berlin, Boston, Tokyo, London, Chicago), 2) run 1 marathon in every continent, and 3) run a 100-mile race. And what achievements she has made so far: she has run 14 marathons including all the major marathons, 3 ultramarathons (an ultramarathon is defined as a race that is longer than a marathon), and she’s scheduled to run a marathon in Oceania this year to complete all continents. She will attempt to run a 100-miler soon.
Anne usually plans 1-3 races a year, train 16 weeks per race, running 6 days a week (usually after work). Her family travels with her in most races so they can still have quality time before and after each race.
In 2019, Anne and her husband founded “Aral Gabay” foundation. Its aim is to provide financial support to hardworking students from low-income backgrounds in Marinduque for their college expenses. Their goal is to support at least 4 students annually.
Create your own story
Anne’s work has given her a different perspective in life – one that is very positive and insightful. She concludes, "When you see the sickest of the sick day in and day out, you cannot help but derive life lessons from them. It makes me want to create and be in control of my own narrative because one day, it might be too late to do the things you want to do in life. So better do it now."
Follow Anne’s running journey on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/running.anne/