When I was filling out my UTME form and excitedly writing out the words ‘Medicine and Surgery’ in the portion for course of study, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I had was my dream of helping people as a doctor, one I’ve had since I was a child, and the ideas that people had told me about doctors. You know, people always talked about how
medicine is a noble profession and doctors are less likely to be poor, things like that.
Sure, those statements have truth in them undoubtedly, but years later I have found out that it’s a rather vague summary of what actually goes on in the six years of training. I know better now obviously. So I just wanted to share some lessons I’ve learnt in the process, relating to medical school and life in general.
1) Medicine is more than a job, it’s a calling. It’s more than just having a steady source of income. It’s a life of sacrifice to the good of humanity. You don’t always get to do what you feel like doing. This is why I strongly advice against forcing a child to study it. Sure, no one should be forced to do a course they have no interest in, but this even more important to medicine because doctors directly interfere with life. Doctors are trusted people in society, they see the most intimate parts of people, and that confidentiality can be abused if in the wrong hands. It’s not about the money, its not about the ‘prestige’.
2) Hard work does not always mean smart work. In medical school, and in life generally, it is possible to work very hard in the wrong direction. The textbooks we have to read are huge as they come sometimes, but we do not get asked to reproduce the whole thing in examinations. Through coming for lectures and clinical exposure with our lecturers we make out a trend of what topics are of a higher probability to show up as examination questions. Before you say it, yes I know that the most important reason to learn is to be a competent doctor, but you have to pass exams first to get a medical license.
3) Medical school is as emotionally challenging as it is mentally, I kid you not. Successful athletes always say that their mind game is as important, if not more, than their physical display of abilities. I have learnt that this also pertains to my course of study. In the coming to six years I have been studying, my coursemates and I can testify that we have been pushed to our limits internally. There have been periods where what woke me up wasn’t my phone’s alarm, but my troubled mind reminding me of what I had not studied. My coursemates and I can tell you our stories for days. Even when it comes to actually putting pen on paper on examination day, a calmer mind will remember more things than a restless one. An important part of our assessment involves us having to take history and perform physical examinations on people. I have discovered that those exams test more of one’s ability to perform under pressure than what he or she actually knows.
4) Do it more to know it more. You really learn more when you have a hands-on experience. This is not a myth, and its not just my personal opinion either. Studies have shown that we remember about 20% of what we hear, 40% of what we see and hear, and 80% of what we see, hear and do. One of our lecturers always tells us that “medicine is not learnt in the classroom, it is learnt in the clinic and on the wards”.
5) Find other activities that make you happy. I’m so happy and thankful that I get to do this, but sometimes the stress involved in the process can be overwhelming. There may be times when the workload will make you doubt your decision to study medicine, and that’s okay. Take a short break, do something that relaxes you, calm down. Think about it like this: if you overrun yourself for that exam and end up crashing, falling sick, and not being able to write the exam, what have you really achieved? The exam would still go on without you.
6) It gets clearer as time goes by. During my pre-clinical years it felt like I was just studying things that had no real life application. Everything makes more sense now, I needed that foundational knowledge to understand what I know now. All those nights of studying “what doesn’t make sense” have helped me at each next level, and what I learn at each stage always helps in the next.
My days as a medical student are coming to an end (can I get an Amen somebody!!) and there are many ‘doctor years’ ahead. I have learnt so much, and I know that I still have so much to learn. So if you’re thinking about medical school or are in it already, just remember this: it might not make sense every single day, but there will be days where you will be reminded of why you wanted to do this (if you were the one who wanted to do it), and that will keep you going.
Thank you for reading through.
(Photo credit for the header photo is to my friend Tolu😄).