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Med school crazy, but I’m crazier

My first year as a medical student can be summarized in one word: Crazy.

It was definitely a new circle of Dante’s Academic Hell. As a proud academic slave, I was prepared to gobble up all information that my mind could digest and to spit everything out during exams. I was confident that my classmates and I would all make it, for after all we were selected from “the best of the best.”

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Fresh-looking in our all-white ensemble and daunting, heavy medical books, we were all generally excited and nervous for what was coming up. It literally felt like going to war every day, as professors blabbered and spilled millions of data droplets while we, the class, tried to catch everything with our bleeding hands, shiny keyboards and muffled recorders. To add more trouble, there were management classes in which we were made to “understand” and “apply” theoretical, typical Atenean blah-blah concepts, as well as “reflection time,” which served as an excuse for most students to let their minds wander freely.

I never knew that “catching a deluge in a paper cup” could be real, but it is the best way I can describe how medical schools generally are.

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However, the best preparations can help one survive only so much. Day by day, my anxiety attacks rose as more and more information came bombarding my almost-full, limited, only 5 GB, old-school brain. I failed my first laboratory exam for the cell module because I was unfamiliar with the stupid terrain of mitochondria, Golgi apparatus, and what-not vesicle. I remember Dr. Rojas suddenly announcing that only 10 minutes were left for the exam to continue, but I still had not answered 30 items. I remember those weekends when I gulped three different caffeinated beverages to pump up my shattered, war-torn nervous system.

Then one by one, my classmates dropped out. It felt like sickening blows to the stomach. I remember the time I embraced organized J, when he told me that he was quitting medical school. That embrace was meant to reassure him of his decision, for I knew that he would be much happier somewhere else, but it was also meant to comfort myself and ease the shock the news brought me. Later that night, I found myself close to tears as I tried to memorize all those T-helper cells and imagined the things that I could do if medical school did not happen: Endless Eastwood happy nights. Perhaps a job. More time for playing musical instruments. Maybe a love life. Perhaps some money. No, lots of money. And doing what normal 19-year-olds do—being immature.

I also remember the moment when I learned that close friend and supremely intelligent J had already quit medical school. It was during the time when we were cutting up human hands and limbs, as if that were not traumatic enough. The rumor of her quitting had been spreading like wildfire, and multiple reliable sources had actually confirmed the news, but I initially chose not to believe it. When the truth finally came out, I found myself on zombie mode, eating stale pork outside the smelly anatomy laboratory, and staring aimlessly at the vast skyline. Everyone was in a somber mood and perhaps wondering: “If brilliants J and J did it, why not us?” I sat with pretty B and smart A, both also shocked by the news. We opened up, tried to defend and convince ourselves why we wanted, or needed, to stay in medical school. Perhaps we knew that our answers were not true or enough, but we held to them like Mufasa held on to Scar as his very last hope in “The Lion King.”

Then the worst module, Head and Neck, came. It was literally a nightmare. We were made to absorb data in the shortest amount of time possible and forced to memorize all of the body structures I thought I never had inside my own body. I was always on the verge of vomiting before examinations, praying “Ave Maria” to every anatomy exam station, and following doctors wherever they went to scavenge information. It felt like memorizing a bunch of useless witchcraft spells: “Procerus, Orbicularis Oris, Levator Palpebrae superioris!” This started the series of frantic, desperate calls to my parents, in which I dropped subtle clues that I sincerely wanted to drop out of medical school.

I asked my mother, herself a physician: “Is it normal, as a medical student, to sometimes think of quitting medical school?” My mother, without any hesitation, replied with a hearty “Yes!” and added that she had thought of quitting “lots of times” during her entire stay. This piece of information—that thinking of quitting does not necessarily translate to actually quitting—instantly relieved my fears.

I eventually went back to that tale-as-old-as-time question: “Why do I want to become a doctor?” And I discovered that my answer had always been evolving. From a childhood dream to have loads of money, it became: to be respected and revered, to be looked up to by society, to attend many conventions and win many cash prizes from sponsoring pharmaceutical companies, to be regarded as brilliant, to be needed, to help serve the country, to eradicate the unjust structures of poverty, to help fellow Filipinos have a healthy life, to being an instrument of the Almighty.

My answers, in my opinion, have been slowly maturing and becoming more “noble-sounding” as I got older, but they have also become erratic. Nothing is more practical to the world than using your self-funded education to get a larger part of this world’s limited resources and fund yourself even more. Many will say that only crazy people will attempt to change this God-forsaken country, stamp out those unjust structures set by the mighty hands of the corrupt, and be an instrument of Someone who cannot be seen. Only crazy people nurse ideals. And only crazier people will think that all of these will be accomplished greatly by working as a physician in a strange, twisted health system. But perhaps finishing medical school is the first step in achieving these crazy dreams.

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With this, I said to myself: Medical school is crazy, but I am crazier.

Mikhail Clyde Manginsay, 20, is a sophomore at Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health.

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TAGS: ateneo school of medicine and public health, career, decisions, life, Medical School
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