Decisions by a 17 year old

I was talking the other day with some of the doctors I worked with, and somehow we got to the topic of how I came to the UK in the first place. Looking back, it is astounding to think that I made that decision as a 17 year old to sign my life away to do medicine (and soul to the govt). I had spent the first few years doubting my decision and whether I really want to do this.

Truth be told, when I went through all the interview process for the scholarship, I just went through with it. I never thought I was THAT student who would be given a scholarship at that point in life. I havent even thought that far about uni. I just finished O levels, yknow. I wasnt the geniuses and prodigies and top students in the year. The reason I worked so hard for O levels was because I felt my parents deserved to come in to the annual award ceremony in school. The top three students in your year would go up that stage, parents called to school to see this ceremony…four years and I thought – it’s time my parents come in. I had a reasonably well results (5A, 3B), there were others that fared better. Long story short, I was one of the twenty that year offered for Skim Khas. We had to choose between medicine or teaching, and I thought there was no way I would be patient enough to be a teacher.

Now I’ve never even thought of doing medicine before that. I wanted to do tourism or hotel management, to be honest. (And if I were to change careers, I think I’d still go through that route. I think it’s pretty interesting and fun… much more than medicine is. *grass greener on other side*) But anyway, I was offered and all I could think of was ‘WOOHOOOO I get to leave the country!!!!’.

Again, there never really was that feeling of suffocation or I have to get out of this sheltered prison-hole kinda mentality. It was just that I was given two choices: stay or leave. and the leaving part was oh so more enticing and exciting. I do remember talking to my brother about doing medicine and how I’m not too sure deep down. And he said we (my family) do not mind whatever I decide on.

And my parents never pressured me to do anything. However, I wouldn’t say there is absolutely no pressure factor to influence the decision to accept the scholarship. After all, this is an OPPORTUNITY! It’s a PRIVILIGE! Not everybody gets this chance to study in the UK (which I envision like a country of Notting Hill scenes)! I dont know the facts but I would say it is extremely rare for someone to reject a scholarship if given to them.

Anyway, so there I was feeling excited to go to the UK! (still imagining all british people talk like Harry Potter)

Until I came here and soon realised the reality of what I’ve put myself into. As I learnt more about what sutdying medicine entails, I was doubting more and more. I remember thinking ‘this would be so shameful to change, as if I’ve copped out. As if I’m a failure already…..’

I got into medical school, after having gone through the stressful UCAS application. In the first 2-3 years, I doubted even more. The first two and a half years (called Phase 1) were mostly theory based, going to lectures and dissection theatre and seminars. I wasnt motivated enough I think and just about managed to scrape through. I’ve failed one module and has borderline passes for some….but I went through each year, still thinking ‘do I really want to do this?’.

I think the lowest point was when I almost failed the very important dissertation at the end of Phase 1. I had to redo it the first time and then I think given another borderline pass the second time. At that point, we were about to do our Phase 1 exam, which was a highly extremely depressing exam to do. It involved learning EVERYTHING taught in the first two years and crammed into 3 hours of a paper. I still remember that time as a constant dark cloud hovering me.

Anyway, so I had just had enough and thinking I cant do this. I dont want to do this. Why do I have to be in this constant pressure? Why do I want to dedicate my life to doing this? Am I clever enough? Am I good enough for this? It’s not like I was forever passionate about medicine. I wanted to go into hotel management, dammit!

I was in tears that night, refusing to carry on doing medicine. I wanted to be in a simple life, not exercising my brain much. I wanted to be a fuel filler person! (“You’ll hate it, jadi hitam in the sun, panas lagi. And also I’ll marry the person filling the fuel next to me” argued my bestie) I want to be a florist! (“Brunei kecik, tak laku jadi florist, selalu keee orang beli bunga?” she argued some more) I’ll jual kain saja!!! (“Tak cukup profit la….brunei kecik….”) 

At the end of it, I resigned to my fate. She’s right. There’s nothing else I can do. I had to study another degree – because thats what society and certainly my family would want me to do if I dont do medicine. That’s still exercising my brain, so might as well finish off this medicine malarkey. I went to sleep that night feeling defeated – resigned.

Shortly after I passed phase 1. Then the interesting bit of medical school started. We started going into hospital placements and thats when I fell in love with it. It wasnt an instant OMGAD I LOVE MEDICINE. It was a rollercoaster of thrill, boredom, stress (feeling I’m not good or clever enough). Gradually, I picked up the rhythm and somehow my self esteem improved. I realise that I can go through the exams without failing or looking like a fool. I may not be a genius – things still wash over me when it gets too technical or sciencey- but I realise there’s so much more to being a good doctor.

You need to have logic (which sometimes still escapes me). Compassion. Hardworking. Actually caring and giving a damn about things. And not just giving a damn about people but giving a damn that things get done and done well.

So yes, thats the story of how I got to where I am today.

I love my job now. Sometimes I think things happen in life as if I was made to do this. And not just being a dr but going into paeds. Because of all the things I’ve decided on the last 11 years since the start of this journey, the best decision was to go into paeds.

Looking back, I do think I was young to make that decision. I didnt know what I put myself into. I am amazed at what my parents must have gone through, the anxiety and fear of sending their girl thousands of miles across the world. But it did work out for me alhamdulillah. It may not have worked for some others and so, I think we have to think carefully of what we expect from sending scholars out. If they have any doubt of doing that course, do not pressure. Do not force it. If they want out, give it to them. Why do you want someone who is unmotivated and impassionate in their field? It is a waste of resources in the first place and is just unhealthy for the person in question.

Phew! What a post! How’s that for making up after a long hiatus?

Love, me

PS For those who think ‘when are you going home, balik tah’…. dont judge a person without knowing them. The story of why I’m still here may be told one day, if and when I feel like it. I dont think I have to give my reasons and tell how much I am passionate about improving the healthcare back home. Whatever I am learning here and experiencing here, I do think how can it help me in the future [back home], how it will be useful for us. Sekian terima kasih.

PPS I did not make it into top three that year.

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