“What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?”Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
As a young 19 year old, I entered the gates of Maulana Azad Medical College(MAMC), New Delhi, a long journey into the Indian Medical system, had just begun for me. Life was simple, I needed to study for a couple of years, reproduce the same stuff in a multiple choice exam, and the next thing I knew, I was on the glory path of becoming a “DOCTOR”.
What I thought of medical school before it started?
Scary. Too many humongous books to be read. Fun and elixir of youth would be over even before I turn 20. Ragging. College festivals ( the only silverlinning it seemed).
The thought of studying was not the one that bothered me actually, most of us during those years were used to studying. Or so did I think.
Medical school in India, is 5.5 years long. 4 years of studying and trying to understand the various disciplines and the final 1 year is spent in the hospital as an intern, trying to apply our skills on real patients(not really) and understanding how things go about in the real medical world.
Unexpectedly, we were told by our seniors, after thorough regimen of ragging, that studies arent very difficult. Read before the exam, for a month maybe, vomit it all out in the exam, and the year will just go by. It seemed to be true also. Everyone had been doing this for years, and everyone seemed to have passed and now were prominent “DOCTORS”.
Academics took a back seat and the real college life began. College festivals, new crowd, playing all sorts of games (racket sports was my cup of tea), making a band and what not. Our youth was suddenly like a bird, caged for the past few years and suddenly set out, free in the blue skies. Although, there always is a group of 10-15 children, who would take academics very seriously, and we, who didn’t study or weren’t as serious as they were, made fun of them, just to hide our insecurities and failures.
Books, for me too, took a back seat. I spent a significant time on the Xbox, with FIFA being the most sought after game, and since i doodled on the guitar, a young college band just seemed too irresistible a thing to not do.
Did a couple of college trips by the time we were in third year and final year, and before we realised 4.5 years had flown by. By now, you are an accredited doctor, at least for your extended fam, though the truth is you really don’t know how to diagnose or treat even the basic ailments like diarrhoea. You just play along to questions like – “I feel weak all the time, what should i do?”, and your comeback is – ” a lot of milk, protein, green leafy vegetables and yes, vitamin C tablets”. That’s mostly all we know about patient management by then.
The question I most often encounter from young kids pursuing MBBS, range from how was your MBBS? How much did you study? Do you regret anything? What would you do differently? I frankly, don’t answer these questions very most of the times.
I did not study adequately. Morever, what I regret the most, I did not attend practical classes seriously, including ward postings. I still struggle with anatomy, and it forms the basis of the speciality I got into.
I wish I did not give into the hear say – Don’t study, everyone passes. But is the purpose of medical school, just to pass? Or to learn something that might just help you to save or improve someones LIFE. To let such an opportunity to slip away – one has to be a fool. And I was.
Right after MBBS, is an entrance examination to choose your speciality for post-graduation(NEET-PG now). We, Indians, are obsessed with ranks and competition. Thats our only system to feel we have accomplished something. But at least the feat of an exam, pushes a lot of students (including me) to read or cram the textbooks.
But is the exam about cramming these books? My opinion has drastically changed over the years, as I have seen and given more and more entrance exams (as a doctor competitive exams never end in India).
They are much more about gaining knowledge that would be useful in the clinics one day when you become a doctor. Will this fact, help you make an informed decision when you see a patient with a cut wrist in the emergency one day? If yes, then there will be a question about it. Can you understand it by cramming? You might vomit it out, but when many years later, you’ll need to use this knowledge, without having a solid conceptual understanding, you are prone to just forget it. Medicine is not learned by cramming, but by understanding and touching and doing things on patients or a model.
The last one year, is the real deal. In the hospital. decked up in your new, white lab-coat and the stethoscope around your neck, feeling like the stalwart of medicine, walking the dingy corridors, with people crying around you, but your pride mostly makes you ignore all of it.
This was the most fun part of medical school, at-least for me. I actually fell in love with medicine during my internship. You are in the ward, you see cases, you see consultants and residents discussing cases, trying to reach a diagnosis and discussing how to treat it, although you meanwhile are drawing blood samples. Still, you feel like a part of the team, the team which is actually trying to save someone’s life.
Ahhhh! The first time when an almost terminal patient was saved, I was also part of the team (basically as interns you draw blood samples, take blood pressure and all the other clerical work), but still I felt ecstatic. I could go around saying hurray if I was allowed. But we have to put on our serious faces at work, behave as if nothing happened, and we do such feats everyday. We make mothers feel we saved her son, we make another mother feel we neglected her son and that is why he didn’t survive. We have to behave strong and insensitive, but are we? Most doctors won’t be able to answer that tricky question.
But internship at the same time is very hectic. I got a taste of what real life as a doctor would be – 24 hours of staying in the ward, carrying packets of blood around at 3AM, drawing samples, people dying and getting angry at you, threatening you, people getting happy and showering you with gifts and blessings, hierarchy, oppression, missing meals and what not.
But the joy of seeing a patient walk out of the ward, especially when the death gods were right at their doorsteps, you actually feel like a demigod.And you realise, you want to get that feeling, often and always.
I decided i wanted to do this, although frankly, I did not have much of a choice.But yes, I also started to enjoy it and could see myself happy.
During all this, taking care of yourself is a must. Work and stress, of the upcoming exam, or the long inhumane duty hours and the toxic work environment, do take a toll on your physical and mental health. The stress of cracking another highly competitive exam just adds to all of it constantly. But was it worth it? Oh yes. You can’t feel that adrenaline rush in anything else, and what are we but a bag of hormones?
My college – https://www.mamc.ac.in/
Do students who enter non-medical fields after high school feel the same about their college life? A look into the life of an engineer is here.