My final year friends are finding out their results later this week. This is a big deal–after years of grueling training and emotional abuse, and a rollarcoaster of intense written and practical exams, the verdict is going to be out: Are they Fit or Unfit to be doctors?
I remember this week like it was just yesterday. A year ago, the week of Black Friday (I didn’t know anything about Black Friday then, but a friend just reminded me that we also got our results around Black Friday which seems like a very dark sort of humour, if you’ll excuse all the puns) we sat around biting our nails and hiking mountains to avoid truly contemplating what we would do if we hadn’t made the cut. Nothing is as crushing as pouring your soul into a series of epic examinations and finding out that your everything was not enough. At least that’s what I was told, because I spent that subsequent Friday screaming my head off and calling my grandmother and my mother and crying and dancing around with my friends gushing about how Ineverespeddedit:
(As an aside, ignore the stupid title of the attached YouTube video. This athlete made his country incredibly proud and English is not everyone’s mother tongue, so I don’t know why people feel like it’s some kind of measure of class or intelligence. He did great, and he dropped some #pearls when he said “African people…we are born great.” Come through Afroconscious athlete!)
Seriously though, I’m pretty sure I said everything this man said after finding out my results 😉 .
After the initial excitement wore down (as in…months later) I realised something that I should have realised the minute I’d put down my pen during that last paper or said “Thank you” after that last OSCE.
I was done with formal exams and tests for the rest of my life.*
Big Deal, This
I’ve always tested well, but that’s because I’m generally a consistant student. I know I have a propensity for procrastination, so I automate my learning so that it’s happening at all times even when I’d prefer it not to be. In medical school, that meant I attented every lecture (even the useless ones) and never bunked a single ward round or tutorial. When assessments rolled around and I was underprepared, I still coasted past “pass” because I’d done the basic due diligence. But I had stress nonetheless. I wanted to do well. I wanted to be confident. I wanted invitations for registrar posts in certain departments, just in case. So I slogged through the rigmarole of working all day in hospital, going home after that to my textbooks and notes, doing assessment after assessment and eventually emerged out the other side a victor. But my time was never my own after leaving the hospital. Student interns are still students, so a full workday was often followed by a full study night.
You want to know what my favourite part of real internship was in the first few months? It wasn’t the confidence of slowly finding my feet as a doctor, or the mental stimulation of knowing it was up to me to decide what to do with patients since I couldn’t ask the real doctor anymore, or the positive bank balance at the end of January! The highlight was this: Going home, kicking off my shoes and doing whatever the heck I wanted because my after-hospital time was finally mine (unless I was on call, or unless I was post-call 😦 ). Never again would I have to open a textbook for fear of being grilled like a fish in the next ward round–I was doing the bulk of the ward rounds solo, with occasional pop-ins from seniors. Never again would I have to hold google-able factoids in my brain for the ‘just in case’ instance of a senior feeling like they wanted to toy with me psychologically. If I wanted, I could simply atrophy in the knowledge I’d gleaned over the several years of training and only update myself as needed.
Of course…that’s not really my personality. Habits I’d gained throughout training kicked in pretty quickly after my initial academic hiatus and I was back on automated-learning mode. In internship, it has meant I attend every academic meeting (compulsary for interns, though they seldom come somehow) and most of the CPD meetings (completely optional, but we’ve made it a bit of a fun social) and I use medscape references to reinforce everytime I learn something new. I forced my MO in General Surgery to teach me to place a CVP. She sucked at teaching, so I hijacked a different MO and after two supervised attempt I was finally able to place a few without supervision. I’ve taken courses to gain some Life Support certifications. I’m constantly sneaking into the departments I love to steal an opportunity to do a procedure or two.
Without the regimented, soul-sucking requirement of tests and examinations, I find myself more willing to learn than ever before. New skills aren’t daunting or tiresome to acquire anymore–I now get a kick out of trying something useful for the first time. I finally understand why all those greying professors would drone on and on about the patient being our greatest textbook. I finally understand why some people dedicate their entire lives to getting more and more qualified and expanding their skill set at every turn. Internship promised to be the biggest test of my life as it loomed–time and incredible distance away from loved ones, having to work within my introversion to make new friends, having to fight against my natural laziness in this freedom from academic pressure to assess what kind of person and doctor I truly am–and so far, it’s the most rewarding test I’ve ever taken.
I wish someone could have told me things would be alright the week before my first rotation. Lord knows I was stressed that I would be lost and incompetent, or that I’d be a disaster like some interns I knew who were so burned out and unhappy that they couldn’t be bothered to seize the opportunity to build the best foundation for their futures that they could.
I’m only halfway through so far, but I’m hoping to finish this one with much more than a passmark and none of what truly matters will be on any piece of paper.**
*Done, in the sense that I would technically never need to study and crossnight for another written examination or simulated/oral examination unless I actively decided to study further. I’ve done some optional CPD stuff since, including getting an ACLS certification, but most of it is really revision of things we were trained to know in medical school (shout out to the nurses teaching in Skills’ Lab!) and it requires less than three days of your life to complete. I’ve heard ATLS is more gruelling, but that’s a bridge I’ll cross when I get there. And, again, for now it’s an optional bridge.
**That reminds me–my university still hasn’t sent me a physical copy of my degree! Gotta look into that.