For a million lifetimes
Medical school is not the place for smart people.
If I am really smart, then I’ll get out of the university and start living my life. Like what most of my college friends are doing, I’ll probably start making a career and providing for myself. If I am really smart, I won’t spend another four years in a university, be in so intimate a relationship with my books, and endure sleepless nights. Stress involving reports, group discussions, and case studies should be out of my vocabulary. My definition of “fun” and “happy” should be being with my family, pampering myself, or traveling the world, NOT being dismissed from classes early, acing the examinations, or completing reports with flying colors.
My first weeks in medical school straightened my crooked conviction that intelligence and perseverance combined with enough funds would be sufficient for me to realize my dream of wearing a white coat. Like a hammer blow on the head, getting a chance to experience what medical school is like awakened me to the more grueling realities that take place between admission and board examination. My determination was challenged more than ever, and my lifestyle was changed dramatically right before my eyes: waking up early to beat the clock, catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thinking that stress has made me look 10 years older, skipping meals either because I wanted to or I had to, waiting for the redemption bell, going home while thinking of the piles of things that I had to study, wishing that tomorrow would be a holiday, setting my alarm clock, dream, dream, dream, being jolted awake by the much-dreaded alarm, and letting it snooze until I get the courage to face reality…
Sometimes, a voice within asks if this is really the life that I intend to live for another four years. Lots of times, thoughts of quitting lure me. “My family will certainly understand if I will no longer pursue my studies,” I often tell myself. But whenever ideas like these pop up in my boggled mind, what feeds my desire to try harder is the litany of interrogations coming from within. Questions of whether I can understand and forgive myself for giving up just like that awaken my slumbering determination. The things that I have seen, the people that I have been with, and the experiences that I have lived through during my premed years as a nursing student have inspired me to be this tenacious.
Those times, I witnessed how a patient stared at the door while silently waiting for someone who’d visit him during the most painful hours of his life. How a sweet smile, how a simple act of concern, and how a genuine caring touch could lighten the face of an old woman on her deathbed. Those times, I listened to the hopes of people living in far-flung communities to see a doctor even just once in their lives. I shared their smiles and tears. I felt their struggles and pains. I heard their silent prayers. People like them have inspired me to study harder, so that someday, while I’m on my mission to relieve often and to comfort always, I can also be capable of healing sometimes. It is for them that I dream of being a doctor… and they are what make it so difficult to let go.
In this field, intelligence is only moving me forward by an inch. If there is something more important than intelligence, I believe it is that desire, that unwavering yearning and determination to keep running no matter how hard it gets. It is that willingness to be tested by fire rather than to embrace easy polishing. It is that relentless passion to inspire and be inspired in return. It is that longing to experience the bliss of reaching out and knowing how it is to be truly alive. It is that commitment to respond to the mission of changing lives and touching souls. To treat a patient as a human being who deserves to be loved and respected, and not just as a walking disease, a means of living, or a subject of study. To cure the core and to care beyond the cure.
Things like these do not need the IQ of Einstein to be fathomed.
My journey as a medical student is a story shared by all of us, because it is a story of DREAMS. Young or old, well-off or underprivileged—whatever our circumstances are, we all have dreams. That dream may roar louder than a lion or it can whisper silently like a breeze. Regardless of how it is wrapped and no matter what form it takes, how we will make a dream possible is dictated by the amount of will power and effort that we are willing to invest. Furthermore, offering our journey to God and to our brethren makes a significant difference; wanting a life that is not self-serving gives us, not a reason to quit, but above all else a purpose to live—which, I suppose, is the real essence of dreams.
After all is said and done, let me end this where I started it. Medical school is not a place for smart people but for those who are insane enough to dream of it, pray for it, work hard for it, and live for it. It is for those who are crazy enough to want the sense of purpose that fuels their veins. And if it is insanity, then let it be, for even if it means more sleepless nights, more examinations to pass, more years in the university and more sacrifices to endure, nothing will change. I will still keep choosing this path over and over again even for a hundred more days and a thousand more years. And nothing in this world can stop me from taking an adventure as worth taking as this, even for a million more lifetimes.
Chelsea Angeli R. del Castillo, 23, is in her third year at the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Medicine and Surgery.