The many firsts of DR. VICKI BELO’S ‘happy practice’

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CoverShe is emotional and sensitive. She cries whether out of joy or sadness. She famously gets attached, not just to the loves of her life, but even to everyday folk, including her patients.

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Yes, Dr. Victoria “Vicki” Belo is definitely not the archetypal M.D. who, out of necessity, is detached from feelings. Anyone who has ever spoken to the well-known dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon will know that she cannot help but to wear her heart on her sleeve.

So on October 2, a landmark occasion for 23-year-old Belo Medical Group, it was but natural—and somewhat endearing—to see her cry over a prestigious international accreditation that has given her practice a world-class seal.

The Belo Medical Group (Belo Med) is now the very first healthcare organization in the Philippines with an accreditation from the India-based National Accreditation Board of Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH) International, which is an official accrediting institution under the International Society for Quality in Health Care (ISQua).

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Belo Medical Group (BMG) receives the plaque from NABH International recognizing them as the first internationally-accredited medical- aesthetic outpatient clinic in the Philippines. In the photo are (from left) Armi Malaluan, BMG general manager, Dr. B.K. Rana, joint director of NABH International, Dr. Filipino Buñag, BMG asstistant medical director, Dr. Vicki Belo, BMG chief executive and founder, Cristalle Henares, Joyce Alumno, executive director of HealthCORE and Dr. Maricar Cruz of BMG

“We at Belo Med have always prided ourselves in the quality of our services, competencies and facilities, and because of my travels for conventions, research and speaking engagements, I’ve always known that we’re at par with other world-class dermatology and cosmetic surgery clinics,” Dr. Belo told The Sunday Times Magazine, shortly after receiving the global seal of excellence from NABHI’s visiting representative to the Philippines.

“But then I thought a couple of years ago that much as I knew I was telling the truth about Belo Med, we should submit ourselves to an actual international accreditation process, so that an external organization will officially declare Belo Med as a world class medical institution,” she continued.

It was at this point that the celebrity doctor unabashedly cried, “Because, you know, after everything I’ve been through in this profession—from the very beginning when no one believed in me—this award will finally put an end to all the rumors and controversies they’ve hurled at me all these years.”

Building Belo
Despite her comprehensive credentials, Dr. Vicki Belo had a difficult rise to the top as the most famous and sought-after dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in the Philippines.

She earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of the Philippines, Diliman in 1978; attended the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Medicine and Surgery and graduated with a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1985; and obtained a Diploma in Dermatology from the Institute of Dermatology in Bangkok, Thailand in 1990. She also trained in Dermatologic and Laser Surgery at the Scripps Clinics in San Diego, California, Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in the University of California at San Francisco.

Exposed to how the Western world goes about a medical practice in her specialty, she earned criticism from many groups of doctors when she established her first clinic in the Philippines because of her aggressive marketing and advertising strategies.

“They said I was being unethical because doctors don’t advertise,” she recalled. “What they refused to understand back then was that this practice consists of elective procedures, using new techniques and machines that have to be advertised for people to know about them.

Ironically, these very same people who were so hard at me for doing that are the ones who are very aggressive advertising their hospitals and services today.”

Unfazed—though emotionally affected—by the medical community’s discrimination, Dr. Belo forged ahead with her vision to establish a world-class group of clinics to treat a wide range of dermatological conditions and administer both surgical and non-invasive physical enhancement procedures that utilize the latest medical technologies and know-how.

“Even this NABH accreditation is part of the whole legacy of Belo Med, which is to be the first in this field of medicine in the country,” she explained. “We were the first to do liposuction; the first to do lasers; and we’re always the first to acquire the latest machines in the field, which of course, also means we are the first to be trained in these breakthroughs.”

Today, Belo’s patient base is both massive and impressive, with the most prominent personalities in the country coming to her clinics, as well as princes and princesses, sheiks and socialites from other countries.

Evidently she has built a sound reputation of excellence in her field but nevertheless took another professional step in having an external organization validate the fact. Even if the process felt like “going through med school all over again.”

“For 18 months, all of our clinics were subjected to stringent inspection and assessment by their team,” Dr. Belo shared. “They checked our garbage, interviewed the staff to make sure they all know and implement the procedures we have in place, and questioned even the tiniest syringe they would see on our tables.”

According to Dr. Belo, who is officially titled CEO and founder of the Belo Medical Group, she spent “several millions” to submit her practice to NABH’s accreditation process, and “several millions more” to comply with the directives they initiated before finally being given the international seal of approval.

“It was a very stressful time for all of us that’s why I’m crying,” she laughed as her tears continued to flow. “But it’s all worth it because it further inspired our doctors and staff—350 employees in total—led by our general manager Dr. Filipino Buñag, to keep on striving for excellence; and most importantly, we really worked hard for this so we can give nothing but the best to our patients and clients.”

The next step
Dr. Belo’s vision to boost medical tourism in the country is the next step after the Belo Medical Group’s international accreditation. Though Belo Med has long been drawing patients from all parts of the world to their clinics in the Philippines (30 percent of their patients are comprised of foreigners) the NABH certification will only serve to make things more official.

“Nowadays, with the Internet, people from elsewhere around the world can make sure that Belo is world class with this accreditation,” she explained. “This milestone is not only for the Belo Medical Group but also for the entire beauty and wellness sector in the Philippines.”

She also believes that such a reputation will change the common notion of “having something done in the Philippines because it’s cheaper.”

“Yes, we may be cheaper than other countries, even in medical services, but with this, they will come to know that we have very good doctors and very good services in the country. It will simply boost what is already well-renowned about the Philippines—our kind of care and talent in cosmetic surgery and dermatology.”

All this make for what Dr. Vicki Belo calls her “happy practice.”

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