Why is it so difficult to learn from my mistakes?

I find it rather puzzling that learning lessons from my mistakes can be such an apprehensive matter. Applications to hospitals have closed quite some time ago, and it is now the period of interviews (and exams). (It is a very terrible arrangement, i can assure you. What should we focus on – our exams or our interviews? Doing badly in either will be a life-changing event; but i suppose medical students are super-humans, aren’t we? I should not be complaining though because i am a bit more fortunate compared to the rest; i will explain more below.)

Most of my peers are attending several interviews. I only have two, and i am trying to secure another, even though that’s looking like a very lost cause. This is my doing. I only applied to three hospitals; most of my peers applied to at least five. Out of my three hospitals, only two require an interview. Out of the average five applications of my friends, all require interviews. Why?

That’s because almost everyone applied to the larger popular hospitals. In fact, i do not know of any who has only applied to smaller hospitals, like me. I am in fact, guaranteed an interview with the hospital i have spent most of my clinical years in – a rather elitist and prestigious hospital. I gave up my ticket much to everyone’s disbelief and bewilderment. So much so, i felt compelled to just rock up for the interview out of peer pressure (i did not).

In fact, this time round, i forbade myself from even considering applying to any of the large hospitals. The hospital of my preference (in my home state) is a medium-sized one, and one that seems to have quite an infamous reputation amongst everyone. Apparently it is supposed to be the hospital that people use as back-up if they can’t find a job elsewhere. Now when i think about my irreversible decision, i feel almost scared; afraid that perhaps i may have made the wrong decision after all.

There is a very strong rationale towards my decision. My interest in Medicine was very nearly extinguished and at multiple points of time in medical school, i wondered if i made the right decision to enter medicine, that perhaps i may be cut out for something else. My university experience is not brilliant – i personally feel my institution has a very disorganized curriculum and there was never a point in time where i felt i belonged to a community. I felt very detached from medical school and now when i look back, i actually feel kind of sad that i did not have a much better University experience. I think the only reason why the last few years did not turn out miserably was because i have been making a proactive effort to extend my network outside of medical school, to get the happiness and satisfaction that medical school is not providing for me; which is quite a challenge, seeing how i spent most part of the day, most days of the week, most of the year, in medical school. This is the reason why i am doing so many extra-curricular activities, and one that a lot of people do not understand (not that i tried explaining to them anyway).

I reflected and analyzed and i realize my first mistake was to choose this institution to learn medicine. I was actually offered Medicine by another University, but one that is smaller and less prestigious. I accepted that offer because the lifestyle arrangement suited me. Unfortunately, i got another offer – from my current institution, one that is bigger and much more prestigious. At that point in time, i really do not give two hoots about prestige. Hell, i was not even aware that Universities had rankings in term of medical schools. I mean, geez, we are talking about medical schools in a developed country; surely any one can’t be too bad? Under social pressure, i withdrew my offer from the smaller university and chose my current institution. It isn’t pleasant. I should be grateful that at least i did not drop out of Medicine altogether; that i realized i love what i am doing, but not the current environment i am in. I could not adapt to the lifestyle and after two years of battling a near depression; i spent a heap load of money to make radical changes to my lifestyle – got a dog, and moved into a house that accommodates a dog (after much bargaining and under-the-table agreement to a rent hike over the other tenants). All these would have been unnecessary had i just stuck to my original choice of university where it was cheaper and easier to live with a pet. That’s mistake #1.

Mistake #2 came three years later when it was time to select the hospitals where i wanted to do my placements at. The selection was random but you put your preferred hospitals. I chose the hospital that was the most prestigious, and one that was over-subscribed to. By a stroke of luck or fate, i got lucky and got my choice. I paid the price dearly. I do not enjoy competitive environments. Competitive environments attract frazzled, back-stabbing, selfish, self-centred and arrogant people and i do not like mixing with them. I grew unhappy. I still tried my best to manage my workload, but i did incredibly badly. So badly that i no longer feel despair or disappointed. I was just very very very furious. Mad with myself. Angry with the environment i was in. I think it finally hit me that i am just different from most of my peers. What they like ain’t what i enjoy.

My environments can be prestigious and much sought-after, but as long as i am not happy, i am never going to do well. And when i don’t do well, i become even more miserable; and it just goes round and round in this stupid circle. I decided to put my foot down and end it. I mean one mistake is forgivable, twice is frowned upon, and three is just plain stupid. Two weeks ago, i decided to rectify my mistakes by refusing to even contemplate the big hospitals. I pored over the medium-sized hospitals that seemed to be everybody’s rejects. I love the presentations conducted by the smaller community hospitals; everyone else was less impressed. I was disgusted by the big hospitals yet everyone was smitten. It was kind of weird.

I am not saying that large hospitals are terrible. I am saying that i think i am more suited for medium-sized hospitals. Plus i would prefer to do my first year of training in a less cut-throat environment, where i can learn my skills in peace and confidence, instead of being bombarded every second minute in a really pressurized environment. Once my fundamentals are packed solid, i can move on to conquer the larger hospitals if i want to. It makes logical sense right? Yet i still feel this minute sense of loss when i see my peers embark on the paths i would have taken if i had chose not to break from this self-destroying routine. I also know this is a big gamble i am taking. What if my friends learn heaps more in a larger hospital, and my own training is neglected in the smaller hospital? Won’t i be at a disadvantage? What if they are favoured for training programs just because their hospitals are more prestigious?

That’s all valid points, but i also know that i want to force myself to step out of my comfort zone. I want to try the less conventional path and i want to know if i can excel despite it. I want to abandon the high-flying ways that i have grown up with – to always strive to be the best, attend the most prestigious institutions, to complete my training as fast as i can. I just want to be a good doctor, someone who is competent and yet not too up my arse to understand what my patients really need. I want to push myself, to see how i can handle being in a very different environment. I want to know if i am adaptable, that i really can surpass boundaries placed on me by my environment; and to be honest, i feel the small flutters of a butterfly in my gut when i realized what i have done; the small fire of excitement of the unknown. And that makes me happy.

I just need to believe in myself and to have faith. As long as i persevere for my dreams, surely it will come true one day, despite the convoluted route i have chosen to take?


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