CANADA – Fifty years ago, Dr. Rufino Olivar decided to try his luck and became the pioneer Filipino dentist in British Columbia.
Dr. Olivar was supposed to go back to the Philippines after his dental training in the US. But instead, he went straight to Montreal to work at the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1962.
Two years later, he applied and was accepted at the McGill University as one of only four foreigners allowed admission. He said he studied again to be able to take the board exam and obtain his Canadian diploma.
"Kaya nag-aral ako sa McGill. Mahirap, that's the thing, very challenging when they don't accept any foreign students noong araw sa McGill," he added.
He finished his course, got his license and wanted to set up his practice in Quebec. But he was not allowed, as he was just on a student visa.
So Olivar then moved to Vancouver where the city hired him as a public health dentist.
A dental company then offered to set him up in Surrey and he has not looked back ever since.
"Ang pasyente namin noon karamihan mga puti, kasi walang masyadong Pilipino noon. May Pilipino rin, mga Pilipino na pasyente, galing dito, kilala kami. But those local residents sa Surrey, karamihan mga puti kaya mga pasyente namin, until now, kasi nong tinitingnan sa record namin, minsan mga 40-years old kasi I set up [the clinic] sa '68. Hanggang ngayon, pumupunta pa rin sa opisina," he said.
Dr. Olivar said he has no regrets about not going back home to practice. Being a "Bisaya", he believes he would not have been as successful in Manila as his Tagalog peers.
Although he faced challenges here, he believes he also had more opportunities to succeed.
As a pioneer in British Columbia, he urges fellow Pinoy dentists to organize to have a stronger voice before the College of Dental Surgeons.
As the biggest minority group in Canada, Dr. Olivar also hopes for greater unity among Filipinos.
"Kasi dito, watak-watak. Pag mayroon organization isa, mag set-up in other org, then they have to compete, papataasan. Masyado tayong divisive e. Kung disregard the geographics, we are all Filipino. Walang division," he said.
Now 84, Dr. Olivar still goes to his Surrey clinic from time to time to visit his daughters who have taken over the family business.