To quit or not to quit (medicine)
I have been in training for almost two years to specialize in my field in medicine. It’s been grueling and frustrating. Many times I thought about quitting, quitting being a doctor altogether. But too much time has been spent and it was too late to turn back.
When I was a child I wanted to be a cop, a writer, or an archeologist. However, deciding last minute for college, I was more idealistic. My parents advised me to choose something sustainable and stable. I applied for broadcast communication, political science, and a premed course. Passing them all, I chose premed — maybe because I didn’t want to be left out in a family of doctors. At that time, I thought I didn’t have a choice. I was convinced that life would be meaningful if I serve people by helping them heal. But it was too good to be true. It was more difficult than I had expected.
After a good four years of medical school right after college and one year of internship, I passed the board exam. Having an MD attached to my name was rewarding. After all, at that time they only made MD plates for cars and not for any other profession. Kidding aside, I remembered what Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Boy, I learned that handling lives was a very big responsibility!
When I started training I noticed I was different. I cried easily, I was always angry, and I was always frustrated. The only joy I found was being with my family and friends and away from the hospital. I was afraid to make mistakes. I was afraid to get out of my shell. I was not confident. I was afraid to get reprimanded. So I didn’t step up. I was mediocre. I was always on the safe side because I didn’t want to risk getting someone hurt through my mistakes. They noticed it, too. I was under too much pressure and I felt like I was going to burst.
And I felt frustrated because most of the time I was demanding and expecting more from myself. I thought that being in training, I should be studying more for my patients. Many times I went home drained and discouraged. I would get depressed and resort to eating too much, crying myself to sleep, and losing myself in television and the movies.
There were times when I asked myself: Maybe I don’t deserve to be a doctor? Maybe I’m not good enough? Maybe it’s too much for me? Or maybe this is not for me?
It was a reality check. I did well during my studies, but being a good student doesn’t always equate to being a good doctor. To be a good doctor, you need to have an EQ higher than your IQ. “Dapat buo at malakas ang loob mo,” they said. You need a strong will. Mama counseled me on the importance of prayer: “Magdasal ka lang lagi.”
Should I quit? I asked myself. But I’ve spent too much time on it. And if I chose another field, would I be welcome? I love working with people and I love discharging patients who are well and better, a far cry from when I admitted them. I love listening to their stories whenever I talk to them. I love hearing them say “thank you” and seeing them smile. I love seeing them outside the hospital, recognizing me: “Oy, si Doc!” It makes me feel like I did a good job.
It took a while for me to realize that the problem was myself, that my greatest competition was myself, that I’m not alone because my batch mates, fellow residents, and colleagues were going through the same journey, and that my family has always been there for me.
I realized that I was being too hard on myself. My mind was pushing my body to do this, to do that, and my body couldn’t always follow. It was like I had a checklist in my mind but I was able to meet only a few points. I was too self-critical, too self-deprecating. “This is residency, and you are allowed to make mistakes,” my mentor told me. “You are in training. You are not expected to know everything. That’s why you have your patients, your consultants; they are there to guide you. But you have to learn from those mistakes and try not to do them again. You have to maximize this training, the learning, because after this, you’re on your own.”
Being in the medical field, I have this constant need to help others, and the irony of me being helpless at times has been quite hard to accept. Being tired and sleepless, missing out on life, and being away from my parents have made up a constant struggle during training. Seeing some of my patients expire, seeing their families weeping have been most difficult to bear, and these have crushed my heart.
But I’ve realized that this journey will not always be a pleasant walk in the park, that things will not always go as planned. But you have to trust yourself. You have to let yourself grow. You have to love yourself: to wake up in the morning greeting and smiling at yourself in the mirror, telling yourself that it is a beautiful day, and you will be better than yesterday.
There is no other way but up. You always have a choice. You can choose to be mediocre. Or you can choose to step up, to be better. You can bend, but never break.
I’m not quitting because my patients need me. I’m not quitting because I know I can do it. I’m not quitting because medicine is my life. Surely it will be arduous, it will entail great sacrifice. Surely there will be buckets of tears and frustrations but alongside that, there will be smiles and pats on the back.
Ars longa, vita brevis, Hippocrates said. Art is long, life is short. Learning medicine takes long, and a lifetime may not be enough. But you do it anyway, because you know that in the end, it will be worth it.
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Clarisse E. Cledera, 27, is an internal medicine resident in a private institution.
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