Removals

I have a confession to make.

Despite having the opportunity to study medicine through an accelerated program, I never felt fully convinced that a clinical career was for me. In fact, I felt that it was just a stepping stone towards a career that is more suited for me.

However, obedient son as I am, after having qualified for the program (which I did not really aspire for, I just did my best to get accepted to my dream college), I just studied to pass.

My way of studying at the time was through reviewers. I did not use books. I wanted to understand concepts from a bird’s eye view that reviewers offer. As a result, my grades weren’t as stellar as they were supposed to be.

As a result, exam after exam, I find myself near the bottom of the list. Growing up as an academic achiever back in high school, initially this was hard to swallow. I took it with much bitterness, but eventually I learned to let it go.

But I didn’t really study harder. Instead, I felt that I just had to strengthen my other skills. I joined the student publication of the medical school, eventually rising as its chief. I became active in some organizations and initiatives.

This was my way of doing things until reality caught up with me. Class standings were posted, from which I learned that I was to take a removal exam for Pharmacology.

Pharmacology was not really easy, but neither was it a subject impossible to excel in. There were a lot of things to memorize about mechanisms of action, the way drugs are metabolized and distributed to various parts of the body, and the variations that occur within drug classes. I knew that I hadn’t been doing my best, and I knew this was what I deserved.

Reviewing for the removals was a great pain, not just because of the regrets that accompanied the preparation, and not only because of the prospect of repeating this subject and getting delayed. It was also because of the realization that if I really had wanted to become a doctor in the first place, this would not have happened.

But it wasn’t time to hit the books and expect to learn a year’s worth of topics within a short time. Reviewers were precisely what was needed for this type of exam. With a chuckle I realized that my style of preparing for exams actually equipped me well to take removals!

We were sizable bunch of second year medical students who were to take the exam. During the examination I barely mustered the confidence to shade my answers, as question after question tested my so-called bird’s eye view of Pharmacology. The stress was palpable as we gathered in the examination room. To calm my nerves I said a little prayer to God: make me pass and I’ll make sure I won’t get to this point ever again.

Happily, I came to know a few days after that I passed. Not only that, I almost topped it. It was my first time to score near the top of any exam in medical school. Something that actually never happened again. Thankfully though, I likewise never removed a subject ever again.

It was a personal victory for me.

Additionally, I think this was my turning point: I developed a genuine desire for medicine, knowing that if I am to become a good doctor, I needed to have extensive knowledge of how drugs work.

Zooming out further, I think that this also made me think hard of what I wanted with my medical degree. Looking at things from a bird’s eye view made me think that perhaps medicine is just a vehicle through which I can sustainably ensure health for all.

There was something bigger to be achieved. But definitely, something that required me to pass Pharmacology. And something that demanded me to change my strategy in studying. I learned how to appreciate books, and the in-depth knowledge they provide. Though I continued medical school with a less stellar record despite my best effort, I did my best to make it up with extra curricular activities.

I found it a good balance to strike: a sustained effort to hit the books, while exposing myself to public health-oriented opportunities even as a medical student. Notwithstanding, my involvement in extra-curricular activities came with the responsibility to pass all my subjects. Thank goodness, I did, every time.

Now, as a professional, I was never asked about how I performed academically but how I made use of my knowledge and skills. Isn’t this what matters more?

Nonetheless, for all the medical students reading this, I cannot stress this enough: read your books. Before aspiring for a bird’s eye view of everything, know the material well. Master it. Live it. And imagine life putting the knowledge to good use: for the benefit of the patients and communities we ought to serve well.

Happy Easter everyone!