Before entering medical school, it has always been my habit to watch vlogs about the daily life of medical students all across the globe. It makes me feel inspired and motivated to keep going throughout the day. What I remember most from watching them was their comparisons of medical education to drinking straight from a high-pressure fire hydrant. Come to think of it, in a short amount of time, we were "drinking" a plethora of medical information that will become useful in the future as we practice our profession. It is not only knowing how to diagnose a patient and give the proper treatment; we learned to start from the ground- to learn from the basics. We learned the relationships between the different parts of the human body from a molecular to a systems standpoint. Who would even forget the tedious memorization of OINAs (Origin-Insertion-Nerve Innervation-Action) of the various muscles in Anatomy, complicated metabolic pathways in Biochemistry, and the mechanism of action and contraindication of drugs in Pharmacology? Indeed, we all had to go through them in more ways than one.
During the first year of medical school, we were young, naive, and more-or-less, prepared for any challenge that life has to offer. We were positive, optimistic, and faithful that we can achieve many things through hard work. I was fortunate enough to have the Regent's Scholarship supporting my back. Still, I was equally pleased to see my classmates fervently supported by their parents and relatives during the start of their medical journey. To some, medical school is a way of continuing a family legacy, while others aim to be the first medical doctor of the family. To some, their exposure to medical dramas and series inspired them to take up Medicine, while others look forward to the adrenaline rush of treating a patient and saving his/her life. We had different reasons why we chose Medicine, but overall, the motivation we had was sufficient to keep us going through the hard days. I did enjoy my freshman year. As of this writing, I still think of it as the best year I had in medical school.
Then came the second year of medical school. Our class schedules were longer, and the course requirements were more tedious. The subjects became more challenging. We learned new concepts that we cannot even grasp in our undergraduate studies. It was hard, but we had to maintain our resolve and endure the process just like before. After all, the pressure turns rocks into diamonds. Every time I enter the classroom, there was this sense of security, knowing that I was not alone in this arduous journey. The spirit of community camaraderie that I got to share with my classmates was the most treasurable thing that propelled me in my sophomore year.
However, halfway through the second semester of my sophomore year, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. It's still vivid in my memory how optimistic my classmates and I were that classes would resume just after a few weeks of community quarantine. But then those few weeks grew longer, and we had to finish the remainder of the school year online. It was unfortunate, but we were optimistic that maybe the next school year, will be more forgiving. Perhaps the next school year will be the perfect time for us to meet personally again. Before we knew it, we spent our junior year having online classes and virtual group case discussions. It was a period of uncertainty, but we had to endure. After all, one more year, and we will be fourth-year medical students. One year will pass just so quickly.
Living as a medical student in the face of a pandemic exposed the big, the bad, and the ugly aspects in myself. I felt that I was learning inadequately and not to take away from our understanding professors, but it was as if my brain is not cooperating to learn and retain the lessons taught. I started blaming myself and thinking that I was not good enough. Of course, I felt that I could not jeopardize myself at the back of my mind because studying Medicine was my little way of helping my family. I should not add to the burden of the pandemic to them. As a filial son, I cannot afford to have second thoughts about my capabilities when it was evident that my family was placing their faith in me. I began doubting if this setup is worth it and if, at the end of this journey, I will be confident that I can be a competent, committed, and compassionate Thomasian medical graduate. Fortunately, by God's grace, I will be a clinical clerk this coming school year.
Looking back at the treacherous journey that brought me here, I can say that studying Medicine was not a walk in the park. Even when we shifted our classes to online learning, I sacrificed many things to get things done. Being a medical student during the pandemic brought a lot of distress to me and my friends and classmates. We saw family members and close friends succumbing to illness. We saw the turmoil of handling the pandemic brought difficulties in our dealings every day. Surrounded by all this negative energy drains a lot of our motivation to study.
But I am reminded of Catriona Gray's final words during the Miss Universe 2018 competition, that we have to look for the beauty in it. We have to search for the silver lining amid the uncertainty and confusion that we are facing...
If there is one positive thing that studying during the pandemic brought me, it is seeing the beauty of Medicine more. During these trying times, I saw how there is a need to save more lives. This thought materialized when I took the initiative to educate my family about health matters, including COVID-19, and how they can stay safe and maintain their health. I came to know how my words can empower and bring comfort to them. To my family, even if I'm still not yet finished with medical school, I am their doctor whom they can put their trust on. During these trying times, God constantly reminds me that He blessed me with this intellect to help my family live their best days.
The pandemic may be far from over, but at least we get to see a glimmer of hope with the way things are developing. On the corollary, medical students should also strive to serve as a glimmer of hope to others. My medical knowledge is still not on par with those of our consultants whom I look up to. Still, I believe that this "limited" knowledge can potentially save lives, empower people, and inspire everyone around us. As long as a person thinks that today's medical students can effect change in society, it will indeed happen. The art of saving lives will continue to thrive even amidst the pandemic.
Let us continue praying for our front liners and the students who will grace their places in the future.
Article written by: Joed Ivan DL. Mata, an incoming 4th Year Regent’s Scholar