I have always been amazed of the amount of reading materials an aspiring physician has to study. And if you’re currently a medical student and you think medical school is the hardest part of the academic side of our vocation, sorry but the complete opposite is true.
You see, Medicine -as noble as it sounds, not only involves heavy sacrifices but also includes life-long learning. After daily quizzes, term exams, and revalidas in medical school, we welcome another year of hitting our old notes and books during internship. After passing the medical boards, we say hello to three, five, or even six (for neurosurgery *crossing my fingers*) more years of residency training which does not only involve handling our own patients, but still burning candles at night studying how to best treat them. Then after residency we spend some time off restudying and reviewing for the diplomate exams. After passing and becoming a diplomate, comes two to three more years of subspecialty training -with bigger, less graphic, more wordy, and more expensive textbooks that will prepare us in mastering our craft, and of course, for the fellowship exam that culminates the program. And soon we become the hot-shot consultant we have always wanted to be. But hey, even if by that time we’ll all look really slick -we still have to keep ourselves aware of the current practice guidelines that we have to constantly and consistently study. As I’ve said, life-long learning.
When I was a medical student, there were multiple times when I would slack off, hit the bed, and virtually escape the study materials that I know I was supposed to study. Especially if I’m sure there won’t be quizzes until next week. This may be normal -especially after a long and tiring day, but if it becomes too frequent, then something must be wrong.
But why does this happen to us? Why do we get tired of studying the craft we’re suppose to master? Is this a sign that we’re in the wrong vocation? Hardly.
During the summer break of 2010 (when I was an incoming 2nd year medical student), I got in touch with a long time friend who was a seminarian and it was through him that I learned that even the religious -no matter how holy and noble their vocation is, at times lose the drive to find essence in what they’re doing and even have the term for it -“spiritual dryness.”
From that conversation, I have learned that God allows us to go through a state where we cannot find meaning in what we’re currently doing, to give us a chance to pause for a while and revisit the reason why we are where we are in the first place.
For me, I call that state “Medical Academic Dryness” or MAD -a state where medical professionals feel detached from the drive that led them into the vocation in the first place. A feeling where one wakes up, sees patients or attends class, does the daily routines, goes home tired, and realizes before sleeping that he / she just had one of the “usual days,” neglecting the constant call for academic improvement. This can be allowed to happen once in awhile, but if it becomes too often, then it is a cause for concern.
Back during my med school days, I would always feel this state of Medical Academic Dryness (MAD) every time I go home from a college or high school reunion -when it was a Saturday night but I had to go home earlier than everybody else because while they can get drunk and wasted all night and wake up after lunch the next day, I had to rush home to study and prepare for the next day when I will be seeing patients for my Clinico-Pathologic Conference (CPC) while everybody else in the family is at home or in the mall having a lazy relaxing time since it is after all, a Sunday.
I would also get the same feeling every time I open my Facebook account and learn that 90% of my college and high school batch mates either have stable jobs in the country or abroad, own their own houses and cars, or are married with wonderful kids. Petty, but the feeling happens -especially if I realize that everybody else is having the time of their lives and there I was in my room, having a date with medical books and still financially dependent to my parents.
When I graduated from medical school and had my own patients at the Philippine General Hospital as a medical intern, things changed. Indeed, what our professors told us in medical school that as soon as we have that M.D. attached to our names, patients will bear all they have -their lives and souls -into our hands, and often trusting us with everything they have, and everything they are, is true.
In the wards, patients give us the freedom to do all the necessary procedures we deem imperative just for them to be given a chance to get well. We may have debates about what the recent practice guidelines are, or which operative technique is appropriate for the case, but at the end of it all, it is still our patients who place their lives and future in our hands -all because they trust us.
And what do we give in return? We give them what they deserve -only the best treatment and care possible. Nothing more, nothing less.
And we can only do this, if we are up to date with our studies. We would only know how to treat pneumonia, if we know what caused it in the first place, what made the patient susceptible to it, what the disease does do to the body, what are the different available drugs to cure it and how can one prevent it from happening again. In our age where information is limitless, all of these can be learned at the tip of our fingertips.
So the next time we feel tired about studying, let’s try to think about the enormous number of patients who need us, whom we will be seeing tomorrow or in the days to come. Think of the trust our patients give us just because we are their doctors.
And what are we doing to earn that trust? We can think of a million ways to serve them but for me, to study, and to study well is the least that we can do.
God be with you.