My 6-letter words in med school
Even if deep inside the recesses of my heart lay my dream of becoming a physician, I found myself at an impasse early on in medical school.
It seemed like I was in perpetual search for the most suitable paradigm on how to best approach med school. Both the perpetual search and impasse undermined my productivity and growth. So it was to my surprise that a six-letter word from our anesthesiology preceptor, Dr. Payawal, became the most suitable paradigm on how I should direct the course of my learning. The six-letter word is “commit.”
It used to be that I thought it was possible to study medicine without pain and sacrifice. The word “commit” helped me understand that in pain there is learning, and in sacrifice we find value. Furthermore, commitment begets tenacity, which is essential in learning medicine.
During my first year and a half in med school, “passed” was the six-letter word that gave me perspective. Imbibing “passed” was an indirect result of my being aware of the brevity of life. Hence, I decided to make both pursuing medicine and sampling the buffet of life my top priorities. As a result, I spent equal time on studying and on trivial pursuits, which was irresponsible.
After all, I must do everything I can to make my ideal futurity as a physician come into fruition, especially because nothing is certain and my capabilities are limited.
But I was unable to translate this thinking into action. So I viewed my serving two masters at the same time as a virtue of moderation—that there is more to life than studying. This resulted in a feeling of discord, and I eventually realized that my virtue of moderation was actually a mask for my mediocrity.
Another reason for using the word “passed” as my paradigm back then was fear. A certain fear paralyzed me into always seeking solace in needless distractions, which made me counterproductive. In times when I came across a difficult lecture, I would not choose to endure learning it and instead would seek the intercession of St. Joseph of Cupertino to help me pass an exam for which I barely studied. And a miracle would sometimes present itself to me. Although I am religious, this bothered me because I was studying to become a doctor, not a miracle worker.
The other consequences of “passed” as my paradigm were uncompleted manuals and being tardy even during exams, to name a few. I realized that I was drowning myself in distractions and asking for miracles, and that I was never fully invested in medical school because of my self-defeating beliefs, fear of failure, and the idea that everything I did was insignificant in the vastness and timelessness of the universe.
For me, it was easier to accept failure in med school if I never fully invested my time and myself than to accept failure if I gave my all. Moreover, I actively avoided pain and sacrifice, which brought me to a standstill. Ultimately, I was rationalizing my state of inaction because I did not want to admit that I was lazy and a coward. This awareness soon led me to accept my weaknesses and to change my paradigm in order to promote growth that will aid me in becoming the ideal physician that I aspire to be. Subsequently, these realizations led me to the six-letter word “strive.”
“Strive” became my new paradigm for the latter half of my second year and the start of my third year. Bringing about change in myself took precedence. I decided to discard my self-defeating beliefs and to choose things that were essential. Despite the illusion of the present times that we can have it all, I had to accept the reality that my intelligence is limited and my time finite. Furthermore, I thought it would be a disservice to my future patients if I did not “strive” to become the best possible version of myself as a physician. I also repeatedly told myself that it was never too late to change, and that I must make the rest of my time in med school matter, leading me to start to “strive.” Striving is important as it builds good habits and solid character, which are both essential in medicine. Then, I decided to abandon my trivial pursuits. Lastly, to have a holistic learning experience, I joined a sorority and the student council, and endeavored to make good in my studies.
It was a 180-degree change for me as it was a step closer to becoming a person of “magis”—doing more for Christ and for others.
As the workload increased each day, there were times when I felt physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. I lost motivation, because I knew more would be expected of me once I passed third year. Furthermore, although striving builds good habits, it is not enough on its own to build tenacity, or persistent determination. This is because the amount of effort does not always equate with the results we hope for. I did not want to be discouraged, so I began looking for a better paradigm to equip me amid disappointments.
Thus, the advice imparted by Dr. Payawal came at an opportune time. He told us that in medicine, learning and toiling are lifelong because physicians must keep up with technological advancements, medical breakthroughs, and changing demographics. He then told us to look deep inside ourselves, to determine whether we are really committed to medicine, because only those committed will have the strong will to persevere past the arduous task of learning.
This was when I realized that the six-letter word “commit” would best equip me in medical school. From that day onward, whenever I felt discouraged, tired and disappointed, I would tell myself: “You are committed to this.”
Indeed, in “commit” I accept that learning is an outcome of pain and that making sacrifices will help me find value in things. Ultimately, commitment to medicine is the key to persevering every single day, in order to deserve my future patients’ trust in me.
Josefina Marie P. Medina, 23, is a third year medical student at UERMMMC Pampanga.
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