From excelling, to barely surviving: the frustrations of a medical student

Hey, look! This med student made it out alive of his first semester in medical school! I’m soo proud of him.

It was a very challenging phase of my life, both emotionally and mentally, and as a result, physically. I thought I was already able to adjust to grad school during my MD-PhD year 1 last academic year. But nooo! This sem was a different one. This was a different kind of stress. 

Learning style of last year was not appropriate for this sem, including the study style and strategy. It was a whole new world. But NOT shining, shimmering, splendid. 

One reason for my frustrations is that I think I’m underperforming (Shet! My insecurities. Ang daming magagaling at matatalino). It’s just not the same as before. Is it because I’m ageing, or what? I even think sometimes that maybe I have a brain tumor or something, because I can’t remember stuff that easily, unlike before. I kept hanging on to what was in the past, that it was difficult for me to accept things. Another thing is that I’m a slow reader, which I already knew in college. I want to increase my rate, but it’s just not that easy when you’re already in your second decade of life.

I had more downs than ups, to the point that I no longer care (ang OA ha. May care naman, pero konting konti lang talaga). But given so, I still continued the fight. I kept telling myself, “excited na akong mag Christmas break. Kailangan ko lang talagang magpahinga.” And that reward after a treacherous journey kept me going day by day, since it’s been a year since I was able to go home to the province. I haven’t had a ’real’ rest since December of last year because of acads and research, even taking up my weekends and mid year vacation.

However, even tho my world went crazy and I got lost a couple of times, I’m happy for the people who stayed by my side and guided and supported me through out this first sem (kung maka drama para namang gagraduate na. Haha!) Thank you to my FAMILY, #infin8, RSO family, Anatomates, other close friends, and to God, who is always right there even though we dismiss and ignore him sometimes.

Lantern parade na lang talagaaa! And pwede ko nang ma process ang feelings and learnings I got out of this year (which you can’t do in med school because you don’t have the time to process everything. Ang bilis lang talaga ng mga pangyayari that you have to move on agad agad or you will get left behind). It won’t be as fast tracked anymore, temporarily. I can then recollect and reflect on everything that has bothered my mind. 

To summarize things up, before I started med school, the goal was to excel. But now, it has changed to surviving. It’s kinda sad, but it doesn’t mean I’m giving up on excellence. I’m still trying, getting back up and rising above everything that’s keeping me down, including myself.

To everyone who’s struggling, not just med students, take a break for a while. Rest. Recharge. Reflect. Process things. Because how can you heal if you, yourself, are broken.

Don’t be yourself. Being yourself is a limitation.

Before you judge me based on the title, please read this short essay because I’ll be explaining what I mean by this.

People always say “be yourself” when you ask tips before a huge interview, when you try to pursue your crush, when you make friends, and in almost everything. But what if being yourself is a limitation?

Think of yourself as a hermit crab inside a dull, old, fragile, small shell.  Do you wanna stay in that shell forever? or do you want to find another one that is new, shiny, shimmering, splendid? Some poeple would choose the previous because it’s the familiar. It’s where they find the feeling of safety. It’s their comfort zone. But other people would choose the latter.

Being yourself is a limitation of your growth and greater potential. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be yourself. It’s a matter of perspective. Think of the quote “be yourself” as not just being yourself, but a better version of yourself. You don’t need to be completely different, or mimic other people. Just be yourself, and transcend that self each and every day.

Sablay and the struggles of getting into medical school (and the MD-PhD program)

FINAL Graduation sablay pic [smaller forehead and better hair]

It has been almost a year since I graduated (Sumablay), and yet I think I’m still not prepared to be thrown in the adult world, the REAL world, where fantasies break and burn. 

Everything has been moving so fast that I wasn’t even able to absorb the fact that I already graduated. It was like as fast as ticking off a box from a list. Up to now, there’s still that little voice inside my head regretting that I wasn’t able to graduate Magna cum laude, and wished that I had higher grades in just 6 units or so. However, fortunately, that voice is slowly fading away (I think). But anyway, I have to let that go sooner or later.

<IMAGINE SOME COOL AND DRAMATIC TRANSITIONS HERE. HAHA>

In my whole life, there is this CONSTANT PRESSURE that I feel. For years, I have been searching for the source of this pressure. I’ve looked around, just everywhere, except one place. This pressure is not from the people around me, not from my friends, definitely not from my parents… but FROM MYSELF. It was healthy… until it wasn’t anymore. Who else would pressure me to be greater, other than myself, right? But that’s just not healthy if you don’t give yourself a break.

Given these personal struggles, unexpected, positive things also happened. Looking back, they’re more than what I’ve asked for. I got blessings I thought was IMPOSSIBLE and never even thought of attaining.  I was just this small kid from the province wanting to go to his dream high school (never got in because they weren’t accepting students anymore), then wanting to go to UP (wasn’t able to get in the UP campus he desperately wanted, but gladly was able to force his parents to let him go to the 2nd-choice campus despite the financial instability). I am a CERTIFIED RISK TAKER. A person who was REDIRECTED multiple times, accepted those detours, but look where I am now: somewhere I never even thought was possible, BUT BETTER (or BEST kung pwede lang).

I encountered tons of problems every step of the way. Give me a break, please! (and they really broke me. So be careful what you wish for. HAHA!). One example is while applying for the UP College of Medicine. I only had one contact to process everything for me. Even though I think that she’s very busy with acads, I had no other option. Who else will I contact? That’s why I’m really thankful for her and everything she’s done (Thank you soo much, Ate Bea! 😀 ). 

There was this time, a day before the deadline, that I had one lacking document, a photocopy of the application form that I passed to the LO of Region X (take note that I was in Region VI that time, UP Visayas), and I had to pull all the strings (which was only one) just to get that photocopied and sent to UPCM instantly. Even though I know that I’ll get scolded for asking the favor, I accepted and listened to all them, and just kept it all in because who was I to get angry when I was the one who asked the favor. And besides, I really wanted to go to UPCM, so might as well endure all the pain since I’ve already invested soo much.  I waited for hours, which felt like days, for the confirmation message that UPCM has already received that document, but the day of the deadline has already passed. The day has ended and was past office hours. And then, POOF!, the unexpected happened. Around 7PM, the courier confirmed that the document was delivered during that day (CURSE YOU COURIER FOR NOT TEXTING ME INSTANTLY. I ALMOST LOST MY MIND waiting because I gave everything for that application and can’t be processed because of 1 lacking document???!!!).

Next problem was financially [which is always. Most of the time, people think that I’m like Bracket A or B, but in reality, I’m really bracket D or E (Bracketing system of UP). Is it because of the color of my skin? The way I dress? What? Pfffft! Sometimes, even I have a hard time convincing my friends that really, I’m not rich you know.]. Who will fund my plane ticket to Manila for my UPCM interview??? Of course that has to be me, because my parents’ minds have already been set for me to study in Xavier University CM (Ateneo de Cagayan). I think I had enough in my bank account? I’m not really sure, but I think I also begged my parents. The last time I’ve been to Manila was when I was 11 years old. That was 10 years ago! And no one will be with me to guide me form the airport to the place where I’ll be staying before the interview (Thanks UBER!). So I booked the cheapest flight, which was midnight, slept (or atleast tried) at NAIA Terminal 3 arrival area on those metal benches (OUCH!), and searched for places near UP Manila which had internet connection and where I can stay (make tambay) the whole day since the check-in time for the place I’ll be staying was 3PM. I picked Starbucks because it was the only place open at 7AM. I stayed there ’til 3PM, and then checked-in. I had to choose the cheapest hotel with airconditioner to be a little comfy before the interview (walang pera pero nag-iinarte pa rin. HAHA!) and that was Tropical Mansion Hotel (a little bit sketchy but pwede na). Then came the interview. I only had a few hours of sleep. I prepared for weekS for that interview, but in the end, I felt defeated. It felt like I prepared just to fail. It didn’t go well based on my assessment.

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My dinner, breakfast, and lunch (the next day).
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City lights from my midnight flight
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My drink (MATCHAAAA!) and my battery-dependent laptop at Starbucks, Robinsons Place Manila.

(I, my stressed face, and LadyMed, a day before the UPCM Interview.)

(The day of the interview. I got to meet my college coursemate and upclass, Nong Patty, with TIFFY UY! my high school classmate, Men2, my high school to UPCM schoolmate, Ate Bea, and fellow interviewees.)

 

Fastforward……… results of accepted applicants was released. I GOT IN! Say what??? It was a shock getting in the UP College of Medicine, because my interview was really bad that I didn’t hope anymore that I’ll pass. Tiffy Uy was a good luck charm! (HAHA!) and I guess they saw the potential in me that even I don’t always see.

Then came the next problem. I already passed West Visayas State University College of Medicine (a great state U in Iloilo) that time, which has cheaper tuition and cost of living compared to UPCM, and that was one of the motivations of my parents for me to study there. WHO WOULD BE CRAZY ENOUGH to let UPCM go after all the hard work, sacrifices, and investments I gave just to get in, right? OF COURSE I’M CRAZY ENOUGH! CRAZY ENOUGH TO FIGHT FOR ME TO STUDY IN UPCM. I bargained my parents to let me study in UPCM for 2 years, and if I won’t be able to find a scholarship by then, I’ll gladly stop and follow whatever they wanted with my head held down. RISK TAKER, right?

So this is the last problem. Just hang in there, last na ‘to promise! I applied for the MD-PhD program, the scholarship and allowance being one of the main motivators in doing so. Financial problem again! I need to go to UP Manila for the interview. This time, I got a ticket, not by plane, but by ship.

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My 2GO Ticket for the MD-PhD Interview.

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I’ve never tried doing so ALONE, and definitely don’t know how. How much more traveling SOLO by ship to Manila??? Who is courageous enough to do so? Uhhm, not really me, but I did so because I needed to. That’s how desperate and persistent I was. I really wanted the program and the scholarship, so I did everything, even though it may be scary, just to get it. I HAD TO TRY. But let’s skip the ride part. I was able to reach UP Manila in one piece!!! Another RISK TAKING moment for me. Because my family doesn’t own a credit card, I wasn’t able to get a reservation of the place where I’ll be staying (Tambayan Capsule Hostel). So I was just there, hoping that there would be a vacant capsule by the time I check-in. And guess what, there was! Thank God! ‘cuz I didn’t have a back-up plan or else I would definitely stay at 7-eleven (HAHA).

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Inside Tambayan Capsule Hostel.

 

The interview was so quick. Mine was the shortest, 15 minutes. And because of that, I thought that maybe they’re just not interested in me. They’re accepting only 10 applicants per year???!!! and would this kid from a very far, small town be special and great enough for them?

Two months have passed since the MD-PhD interview, and we were already in UPM preparing for LU3. My mindset was fixed that I’ll be entering LU3, wear this cute white uniform (it’s been 4 years since I wore a uniform), and struggle with other 180 people. Then a day before the orientation program, I received an email saying that I GOT IN THE MD-PHD PROGRAM! Instead of being happy, I GOT SCARED. You know, I really prayed for this, but now I’m feeling like kinda backing out. WHAT’s WRONG WITH ME???!!! I wan’t able to sleep that night because we were only given overnight to accept or reject the offer. In the end, I told myself, “If your dream isn’t scary, then it isn’t big enough.”

A whole year has passed since then, full of ups and downs, stress, sleepless nights, coffee, a couple drops of tears, a few mini-breakdowns, and I’m still in ONE PIECE, with sanity still intact (or so I believe. HAHA).

Thank you for everyone who believed in me even when I don’t believe in my self, for pushing me, not down, but towards my goal, for being my source of confidence because I really lack some, and generally, for all the support in all aspects of life.

After reading my story, I hope you will be inspired to do the best you can, grab all the opportunities in front of you, and sometimes take risks. Things may not go your way, but things do happen for a reason. You may not know the reason at the moment, but you’ll eventually do. Fight those setbacks, go back on track, enjoy the detour, because If you really want something, you do everything you can to get it and never give up until you do so.

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Going home.