Not Seeing the Wood for the Trees.
A first year student’s perspective on the MBBS journey.
Right now, I’m in the middle of a hike. When I decided to climb this mountain, I knew it was not an easy task. I need to spend hours under the scorching sun to overcome the steep slope to reach the top. At the moment, I’m well aware of the fatigue of my muscles and I have no mental capacity to think about things other than my current step, one step at a time. Thankfully, here I am. I’ve just reached the gazebo in the middle of the mountain, a checkpoint where I can sit down and take a break before carrying on.
My physical fatigue is similar to my mental tiredness after one year of medical study. It was surprising that I didn’t feel the relief I normally feel after reaching a milestone. My tiredness lingered on for quite a few days after the exam. Because of the unexpectedness of this feeling, I took the opportunity to explore it. What is it? What have I done this year? Has it been worthwhile? When we’re in the middle of a trek, we do get lost, and we might be preoccupied with the how, rather than the why. Why did I embark on this journey?
“You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” ~ Christopher Columbus. I studied psychology for six long years before embarking on my medical journey. I decided to leave my shore because of an incidence four years ago, when I was in the final year of my undergraduate study in psychology. At that time, I witnessed how my father was being tortured by cancer and eventually died from it. Because of this, I deeply understand and sympathise with the turmoil a disease brings to every patient and their caregivers. This experience motivated me to alleviate the suffering of patients as well as to try to restore their well-being. This significant incident, and this poignant memory forever imprinted on my mind, reminds me of our finite time in the world. Death is inevitable. Sometimes, when days could not be added to life, we should add life to days.
“You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” ~ Christopher Columbus.
It is inevitable that we encounter periods of suffering and illnesses at some point in our lives. I endeavour to ease people’s distress with my toil. For me, this is a vastly meaningful quest because of what I encountered personally. Meanwhile, I am also aware of the inevitability of death. No matter how skilful, knowledgeable and experienced a doctor is, eventually, death will always prevail. Instead of blindly adding days to life, I am committed to helping my patients add life to days. I will endeavour not only to cure diseases, but to heal people, to allow them to pursue things they cherish and to assist them to live according to their will. To realise this ambition, I now aspire to be a specialist in palliative medicine.
Shifting from my dreams to the present moment, the sensation of my tiredness perhaps stems from the confusion of my losing sight of the human behind the illness. One of the key learning objectives of the preclinical years is to understand fundamental knowledge of medicine, including physiology, anatomy, pathology, and pharmacology from the biomedical perspective. I have no doubt that all this knowledge is critical for us to be competent doctors, as they are the ABC’s of medicine. However, focusing too much on the mechanics of life, I have lost sight of the person as a whole and the vision that I set out with is blurred. Drilling into medicine without realising why I need to study such detail can be alienating at times. However, after this brief break to reflect, I see the bigger picture. I have found my compass and can orient myself once again. Remarkably, my tiredness subsides.
The original aim when I set foot on this mountain was to learn medicine, to reach the peak to see the topography of humans and their illness, and then come down and apply knowledge to strive towards my goals. When I was doing revision to prepare for the exam, I needed to put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together to complete the picture. But there is another kind of jigsaw puzzle that is arguably more important — How the knowledge I’m learning can help me achieve what I want to achieve. Having consolidated my goal, I continue my hike and welcome the ups and downs ahead.