Doctor in training, one year on
It’s been a year since I scrolled my iPad, hoping to see my name on that list. I was thinking, if I saw “Marl Andrew Bernardo Valdez” in that long list of wannabe physicians, I would do nothing but shout in happiness. And I did.
Four years of medical school plus a year of internship was tough, but what came after it was even tougher. After passing the boards a year ago, I immediately decided to go into residency training, thinking that if I started early, my youth would work to my advantage; I could be a specialist in the earliest time possible. This was an idea that my family also believed in.
What I did not take into account was the fact that I never gave myself time to rest and enjoy a break, to be free from stress even for just a year. I’ve never stopped forcing myself to learn new things since nursery school, thinking that excellence comes with achieving certain goals while still young.
In residency training, I was the youngest among my colleagues. My coresidents were already in their 30s, and most of them had experienced working as a general practitioner or in the public health sector after passing the boards. Some of them had taken time to travel abroad, ease back a bit and enjoy life.
I envied them and their lives, but I had chosen this situation myself — a life where I had to work up to the wee hours just to finish a task, and one bombarded with daily duties and responsibilities. Sometimes, I’ve begun to question: Is residency training still worth pursuing?
Quitting residency has always been an option. A draft resignation letter is saved in my desktop computer, just in case I feel I can’t take it anymore. Many times, I have approached our chief resident to tell her I no longer want this kind of life, that it would be best for me to go home and take some rest.
But every time this happened, I’d see a lot of people who were also having the same struggle; I’m not the only one on the verge of raising the white flag. Most of my coresidents also regularly wish to quit. The irony is that these were the same people who encouraged me to join the training program. But my senior residents also encourage me to just take it one day at a time, and solve problems as they come.
Working in the largest government hospital in the Philippines (in terms of bed capacity) made me realize two things. One, no matter how big a government hospital is, it will always be filled to the brim with desperate, mostly poor patients. Second, and because of that, government hospitals desperately need more manpower to serve their patients.
Which somehow made me realize that if I were to give up on my dream, I would be giving up the chance to help alleviate the pain and suffering of many of my fellow citizens. I am not Superman, of course, but every single day that I enter the hospital and see people in wheelchairs with face masks on makes me feel that every doctor can be a superhero in their own right — if they choose to be one.
Being such a doctor also means admitting our share of failures in the management of patients. It is in admitting these flaws that every doctor becomes vulnerable to emotional stress. But I always remember what my review teacher reminded us: There are some days when we can’t save them all.
Every year, thousands of Filipino medical graduates pass the physician licensure examinations. The delight of affixing those two coveted letters, “MD,” after one’s surname is something to be treasured.
But after that delight always comes the question: What’s next?
In picking which option to take, one should ask himself how he really sees himself in the coming years — whether he’d have the grit to pursue the hard life of a doctor in residency training, and see the higher calling behind such efforts.
Three hundred and sixty-five days since I saw “3519 Valdez, Marl Andrew Bernardo” on that list, and nine months into my residency training, I am still that physician who thinks quitting is an option.
But a part of me also believes that if only I could will myself to endure four years away from my usual comforts, then I could be that competent radiologist who could help clinicians diagnose a patient’s illness and help him be well—a good doctor who discovers every day that there is a lot more to learn, and who realizes that fulfilling one’s dream also helps other people even in the simplest ways.
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Marl Andrew Bernardo Valdez, 27, passed the physician licensure examination in November 2018. He is currently a resident physician in radiology at Southern Philippines Medical Center, Davao City.
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