{3} Surviving Firsts

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, son. Sometimes you’re the shit, and sometimes you’re the janitor.”

Writing this on the eve of my last exam is, I suppose, contra-indicated by the normal standards of medical students, what with all the last-minute cramming that usually goes on before final exams. But this blog entry seems to be unavoidable tonight, overdosed as I am on the vestiges of a caffeine-induced high. My contribution to Project 52 this week is, as promised, an entirely novel entry on the apropos subject of medical school.

Since I’ll be wrapping up the final semester of my first year in a matter of hours (it’s 2 a.m. as I write this), it’s somewhat fitting that I reflect on what I’ve learnt and unlearnt in the last ten months. I have remodeled and reshaped my values and my expectations; I have tasted the bitter ale of reality (and almost gotten drunk off it); I have grown. University provides the opportunity for so much self-growth, and I’m grateful to be able to experience that.

Getting in to medical school proved to be the easy part, as it turned out. Bliss superceded all else for about five whole minutes. . . and then reality snuck in. Hello, tuition. Hello, boarding fees. Meet empty bank account. Financing tertiary education has proven to be one of the most challenging obstacles any young adult faces, unless they come with a built-in trust fund. Even scholarship seekers (and holders) have to face this problem. There were three scholarship holders in my tiny class, and they were no less frazzled by tuition costs than the rest of us.

Sheer, bloody-minded determination is the only thing that got me through what had to be one of the longest Augusts of my life. That, and the superhuman awesomeness of my family; everyone pitched in, pulled something from their sleeves (or out of their asses in some cases) to help me get to where I am right now. To realize I was capable of achieving a goal simply by not giving up and to realize that people were out there to help me were the biggest motivators I’ve ever had. So that’s two lessons I’d learnt already, and the semester hadn’t even begun.

When it did begin, the school year was ushered in rather half-heartedly by the most motley collection of students you could find in a medical classroom. To start with, my class is essentially a trial run for the university, who is expanding their campus into another city. My graduating class is to be the first batch of medical students on this campus. Imagine this: 27 students from all over the country, essentially stranded in a campus that, despite strenuous claims otherwise, was almost totally cut off from the main. We were guinea pigs. Worse, lab rats, in isolation. For the entire year, we were forced to come up with ingenious solutions to every problem that distance learning posed. We had to travel for lab exercises, for exams, for pointless ceremonies (400 miles to get a pin, really?). But we stuck it out, we learnt our stuff, we were imaginative and clever, and we kicked serious ass on our Semester One exams, still managing to make new friends (and not-quite-friends) on the way.

I’d like to say here, for all, that we rocked. Despite the ups and downs, despite the disagreements (and, yes, there were many), despite or because of our shared successes, we have accomplished something this year. And though many of us are going to give up on this “second campus” thing, we were all still a part of something new and special, because we created it and it is because of us.

Philosophical reflections aside, the immense amount of practical knowledge I have gained in seven months’ time is astounding. The volume of information that I’ve had to retain at one point or another is so far beyond anything I’ve done in high school or college (maybe not primary school, but you get my point). From personality theory to gastrulation to extrication, it boggles the mind when I sit back and think about it all. The volume of information I just finished revising for my last exam tomorrow – today – for one course was quite a bit, and it wasn’t even our weightiest/most voluminous course. I’m not going to brag that I learnt the value of time management this year (I’ve known – and ignored – that for the longest time), but I did learn that the old ways of doing things don’t always work. Medical school requires a constant reevaluation/reinvention of your methods if you’re going to survive.

Surviving your first year of medical school, and indeed university, goes beyond passing exams (and I did manage to pass all of my first semester’s; I only hope that’s true for the second’s), beyond thriving on campus, to something more intrinsic and personal. It is a recognition of your strength in the face of unexpected circumstance; a call to arms, if you will, of your ability to stand alone (rapprochement aside) in the midst of the tidal whirlpool that life often creates. The phrase “You did it” implies, nay, shouts, “You can do more!” and this drive to do better is second to none.

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