The start of something… - Dr. Jeffrey Ng (Recent Graduate)
I was asked to write about my experiences in medical school and I thought it might be best to divide it up into chronological sections and give a quick story and a lesson I learn. Here I go and hopefully it won’t sound like a PPD or a “taking care of yourself GOAL”
Before Med – Not so crazy times
I still remember the day I got my acceptance email. It was early November and I was at work when my phone vibrated. As I looked down, I saw it was from the UOW GSM (Now GM), stating I had been successful. I was awe struck. Time slowed down as I read the email again and again. It didn’t feel real…especially when I tried to show my best friend and colleague 5-10 mins later because in my excitement, I unknowingly swiped/sent it into my trash folder. I truly believed, at that point, the 5 year pursuit of getting into medicine (yes I sat the GAMSAT 5 times) had finally broken me, I had officially hallucinated my acceptance email.
Fortunately enough, a little while later I decided that after 26 years on this earth with perfect mental health that I was indeed sane and this lead me to check my deleted folder (lucky as I never do this). There it was, the email I had seen earlier…
Lesson: You never are as crazy as you think you are.
Phase 1 – Climbing mole hills
I was in! Jessica Brown and her alcohol fueled, dehydrated marathon running ways were the portal into learning about physiology. *Hands up* “Can we get a full set of obs…”, “Can we have describe the pathophysiology of…” and so forth it went once a fortnight. Intro, CVRS, GIL all seemed to pass quickly and we finally got to URGE where things, as promised, were gone over again in detail. I was a sucker for details though and I remember spending countless hours trying to memorise the pathways and enzymes in biochem week, the week in GIL that seemed to break the largest proportion of people down to tears. In the end though, all that time I spent inside the GSM learning those pathways and debating the proper nomenclature for enzymes and products with my study group which, at the time, we all thought were important, only gave me around an extra 5 marks at most in the final written papers…
Lesson: You will make mountains out of the smallest molehills, learn to take a step back and ask is this truly important to know and then move on (or ask people in the year above of you inside voice is freaking out). But for those in phase 1, definitely know Phosphofructokinase…
Phase 2 – Lights, camera, action?
As my cohort descended onto the hospital for the first time, we quickly found out how daunting this phase would be. It was the beginning of the teach yourself medicine style of the course. The “compulsory” hospital time, numerous moodle modules and occasional bedside tutorials made the load almost undoable and the moto of Hospital by day, GSM by night seemed the only way out of this madness (it wasn’t – you just need to look at them dead in the eye and say you have teaching with a straight face). I also made it a point to go out to med events as I started to realise that I hadn’t seen certain people in my year for months at a time and it was a good way to catch up over a beer or several.
Despite the business, I foolishly decided to continue my involvement with med revue. I had had such a fantastic time doing it the previous year it was almost impossible for me to say no. In the end, it was the extra-curricular activities like med revue that got me through phase 2 as it gave me something else to focus on. It saddened me though, when people said they wouldn’t come to see our show because of “insert reason” and slightly more vexed when most of those same people would ask if there were tickets left on the day of the last show after they heard how good it was.
Lesson: Go to as many events as possible, even if you’re tired, as it may be the only time you get to see your cohort, and you never remember the nights you stayed in and slept. Support the endeavours of those who dared to do more (shameless plug for Med Revue, you all should definitely go and buy the tickets early)
Phase 3 – Where did everybody go? I’m freaking out!
This phase is when I felt truly removed from most of my year, literally and figuratively. However, like in most hubs, I became a lot closer to those unfortunate enough to be placed with me and my hyperactive ways. In my home away from home we shared family dinners, the joys of birthdays and sadness of family members passing as one. We relied and looked after one another as it seemed the only way to keep things together. The people in my hub (especially my two housemates) made the year possible.
In terms of the medicine side, as I saw more patients throughout the year I could slowly see the semblance of something you might call a junior doctor. I was surprised to see that patients and my preceptors would listen and treat me as a clinician despite the monkey in my head playing the cymbals screaming that he had no idea what he was doing. Insecurity plagued me and my colleagues and this continued for the whole phase and, with what I felt to be very little guidance of what we needed to know (all we had were 35 CBLs to go off), my cohort sat our final med school exams ever. Had I done enough? Had I gone over the right things? Apparently, I had…I was through…also my friend who had daily freak outs in the 2 months leading up to exams ended up getting an excellent…WTF?? (we all know at least one)
Lesson: Trust the system and lean on each other, you’ve made it this far. You always know more than you think you know.
Phase 4 – Don’t blink
Phase 4 allowed me to learn because I wanted to learn with no looming threat of exams. It wasn’t all fun and games as we still had occasional assignments due…but it was mostly fun. I managed to get overseas to Vanuatu for my elective and got to do a lot and see a lot…especially the coral and ship wrecks in the crystal clear blue waters around the islands. The hospital was pretty eye opening as well. Would definitely recommend going to a less developed nation for elective as you will get to truly appreciate how well we have it here.
Coming back to an Australian hospital for my final term in PRINT (Pre-Internship) I adopted the doing/learning 3 new things per day and if I was happy, I’d leave to do things more important to my mental health. The beach was only ever a 5 min drive away in Wollongong. That being said, some of my colleagues would continue to pull 12 hours days of unpaid/thankless work. When I asked why they would do such a thing, they merely said that they loved it and wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Our final week back in Wollongong meant my cohort was all back together for the final time. It went with a blur and before I knew it I, along with my cohort were reciting the Declaration of Geneva in front of our loved ones. That was it. We had finally earned those extra few letters before and after our names.
Lesson: Enjoy medical school in whatever way you want and suits you, it’ll be over before you know it.
“Phase 5” – Tell your loved ones…don’t get sick in late January – early February.
So I’m writing this is the calm before the storm, the holidays before I start work as an intern in Wollongong Hospital in late January. I’m not sure what to expect but I know that exciting times lie ahead for me and for you, whoever is reading this. Whether you’re in phase 1, 4 or like me about to enter the profession, know that it’s only when we look back that we can appreciate how far we’ve come. You WILL eventually look back, wonder and laugh at why you cared so much about phosofructokinase. (It converts fructose-6-phospate to fructose-1,6-bisphosphate in the glycolysis pathway) However, always remember, the real work is ahead of you…and you get paid for it (Damn, this is definitely a PPD now.)
Lesson: To be continued…