The big difference

This is my second elective i have chosen to voluntarily undertake during my vacation because i would sincerely like to learn more, know more, and be less stupid. This is also my second surgical elective. Unfortunately, both times, i find myself bored out of mind, wondering whether i am wasting my time, and for the umpteenth time, questioned my wisdom in entering Medicine as a profession in the very first place.

Really, all i do is shadow the doctors on their ward rounds, try to think through the patients’ management plans, and stand in the operating theatres trying to get a precious glimpse of blood or two. I could stand in an eight hour operation, only for me to see the organs once or twice. And usually, apart from the very obvious, i am quite clueless as to what i am looking at. I really wonder how people learn on their electives, and why some gush about how much knowledge and experience they have garnered, whereas i seem to be languishing behind; and in fact, as each miserable day of my elective passes by, i start detesting Medicine more and more.

Today, a Registra who had been on sick leave came back. During the ward rounds, he started asking us questions and teaching us stuff. After the rounds, he actually took the time to conduct an informal teaching session. I was aghast. For once, i had my questions answered and i was really learning something. I realized that perhaps i am not as clueless as i thought i am, and i did feel a sense of satisfaction with myself when i could get the answers right. This made me want to strive harder, and most importantly, i started to like what i am doing.

Before him, when i had a question and i tried asking the other Registra, she said quite bluntly, “Read it up on your own.” I got the hint straight off – Leave me alone. I did. And i was very unhappy.

But this new Registra is just fantastic. I saw the other medical student brightened up immediately too. Previously, he was like me, tagging solemnly along with the team, just trying to stay out of their ways. I learnt more stuff in an hour today than in my whole three weeks combined. Unfortunately, my elective ends today. (But the world is not coming to a grinding screeching halt because i approached this new Registra and obtained enthusiastic permission for me to come in an extra three days next week to learn till the day i am jetting back to the Land of Fish and Chips).

I have been brooding about this sudden turn of events. I always attributed my unfulfilling electives to myself – perhaps i was meant to be more proactive (although i am not sure how much more proactive i can be if questions are frowned upon and i am expected to be silent), perhaps i was really not that interested in Medicine in the first place, perhaps i am supposed to know all these but i must have been slacking off because i don’t (again not sure how i am slacking off). These severely unhappy feelings were making me pursue a lot of other extra-curricular activities (not that i am complaining because these activities do provide a happy avenue for me to vent my misery) which then reduces the amount of time i have to study, which then further exacerbates my thinking because i start thinking I am obviously not studying hard enough if i can devote so much time to other things. Hah.

I thought about it, is teaching really such a drain of resources? I honestly do not think so. Teaching is certainly a two way street – when you teach, someone else learns and this person will be a future doctor whose skills you have a part in molding. When you teach, you certainly learn stuff on your own – you strengthen the knowledge base you already have, you read up so you can teach better and therefore effectively widening your knowledge base, and you gain very strong support from your colleagues which in turn gives you a better reputation, and i think you naturally treat your patients better because there is an unconscious need to be a role model. The more i ponder over this issue, the more i think it is really short sighted not to teach just because you can’t be bothered.

Also telling a student to read up has two implications. Firstly, you are implying the student is lazy, which to someone like me, is especially damning because i take this seriously, and it makes me very discouraged, when obviously that’s not the case. This negative feedback only serves to fester the doubts in my head about Medicine, and i start to forget that i like what i am doing. Secondly, if all i need is to read up, then tell me, why the fuck should i still attend any tutorials, lectures and clinical sessions? After all i can always read it up. Clearly there must be some sort of benefit for students to have their questions answered on the spot; it just adds a variety to the different media we can learn. Medicine is such a vast subject, we really should try to sponge off any knowledge we can glean in any way. And i am being completely reasonable about the questions – it is not as if i’m asking questions at rapid fire speed. I am merely asking questions that i don’t encounter in my readings, and that are usually seen in reality.

So yes, i am angry. Angry that i have been so unfortunate to have met not one but two bloody electives where people cannot be bothered to teach, whereas i know of friends who seem to strike gold anywhere they go. It pisses me off because my efforts are wasted and under-appreciated. It makes me very apprehensive about my third elective (and this time it is an official one) that i am due to start in a week and half. What if i don’t get taught anything? Honestly, in these situations i really learn more just by reading on my own, yet i am forced to plaster a sick smile on my face and turn up at the hospital and play the part of an invisible ghost, or risk a bad reference.

Well at least something is cleared now. It isn’t me. It is the part of those blasted doctors who refuse part of their responsibilities. That’s right, if you are a doctor, a part of your responsibility is to teach. You will never have gotten to where you are if someone had not taken the time to educate you.

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