No Rest for the Weary: Challenges in the Medical Field
“Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say.” – Mitch Albom, So I’ll say it. Sometimes I envy the people who aren’t doctors. This is a very prestigious profession, but it sure comes with a luggage. From the day we step into medical school, our lives no longer remain ours. They are devoted to this field and this field only. For me though, the journey began, way before that. Having come to Pakistan after spending several years abroad, I could not adjust to the schooling system.
I flunked three subjects, as a matter of fact. But I’m the kind of person, who if pushed, will sit down for a while on the ground, and come back stronger a little while later. So I studied like a maniac until I cleared those subjects.This was in high-school. Then came college and the mountain called the entry test where thousands of applicants apply for the limited number of open merit seats in Government colleges.
I’ll tell you a little secret. The one thing that was very much doctor-like about me, even way before med school, was my oh-so-awesome handwriting. As the board examiners’ loved colored markers, it’s no wonder I never did any good there. However, the entry test was a different story altogether because it tested concepts and not my artistic ability.Once I made it to the open merit list, I thought to myself, “Well, yes all is fine in the world again.” Little did I know the real journey had just begun.
Medical school was like a dream come true; corpses to lab tests to the big lecture halls. All was fine and merry till the first professional exam. After that it became quite clear that medical school was no joke.Every year there was something new to be terrorized of. In second year it was Neuroanatomy, and in third year it was Pharmacology and Forensic Medicine. In fourth year, it was Community Medicine and in final year, Pediatrics.
But we struggled every year, crammed in all the books, listened to all the snarky remarks from the examiners, and bore their torture as the fate of our future lay in their hands. Finally, when we passed out of medical school, we thought to ourselves, the hard part is over.It’s not.It’s never over.
House job was torture. I used to see House Officers and think about how rude they were. Well, after doing some 36 to 48 hours long duties, I realized, one is only human. Not only are the seniors continuously bombarding you with orders but the patients too!
In the end it was those long strenuous hours that made us learn things, which brings me to my point. People in other professions never have to beat themselves up to learn! Our profession is such that it requires not only our mind but our physical presence at all times. A little mistake and a life will be gone.
Just like that.
But as if this wasn’t quite enough, the medical field decided to really give us a good time with the post-graduate studies. From the time I turned sixteen, it was all about figuring out the next step.
What should I do next?What should I study?What things should I ignore in life?What events are important enough not to be overlooked?Which people are important enough to leave all else for?For the past nine years, it has always been about that; preparing for the next exam. And now even before house-job was over, I, like everyone else, took up my books for the FCPS-1 exam.
There wasn’t a day after the house-job ended that any of us sat down and took a sigh of relief and thought, ‘Yay! No more duties!’ No we do not have the luxury to do that. I have to take the FCPS exam; some have to prepare for the USMLE, and some for the PLAB test.
The United States has certain reservations when it comes to International Medical Graduates, and perhaps rightly so. That being said, the honest and bitter truth is we have to work much harder than the US graduates to get a residency. Not only are some of the subjects tested new to us, but the scores required by IMGs are much higher than those for the US graduates.
Perhaps it is acceptable in an insane sort of way. The US graduates have degrees from schools backing them up. The country is aware of the reputations of those schools; what do they know of ours? People’s continuous questioning of our abilities, is never going to end.
But that’s not all, the Americans love research. The medical school I went to was not too keen on encouraging that.So now, if a person like me ever wants to practice in the US, not only do I have to publish a few papers (like that’s a piece of cake), I have to study till I can get a good score too (read 250+).So the day I pass my FCPS-1 will be the day I start my preparation for the USMLE.
There’s a lot to think about; when to take which Step exam, who to write to, how to get observer-ships, how to get all the tests taken so I can apply for the match before September of the year. It’s so much easier when you have someone to guide you.
If it weren’t for some nice colleagues we’d be all running downhill. However the one thing they cannot do, is study for you. You’re on your own there. Planning all that, a timeline, and arranging for all the expenses is a tedious process. There is no rest for the weary.
Apart from that, in order to take the USMLE, you need money in the amount of hundreds of thousands. So, will a common man, a doctor without any means, never be able to see this dream of his come true? Is this not unjust?Will he have to work two to three jobs to make this money?And what if by the time he does, his age is no longer a factor that goes in his favor?
Coming back to my point, I sometimes envy those who are not of this profession. I see people with nine-to-five jobs complaining about work and I smile to myself thinking they haven’t even seen the worst of it. I see people earning twice what we do at our ages. I have seen people travel around the world, see places, enjoying the very essence of life! And though I have not lived a bad one myself (having travelled-but not quite as much as I’d like to have), I could have lived it better, with less woes and less (continuous) planning.
I was talking to a friend of mine in England, the other day, who just completed her Bachelors and I asked her, ‘What’s next?’
‘I’m taking a pause right now; finding myself, sorting my life out,’ she said.Need I say more?
What I’d give for a pause! Unfortunately though, I was born with a thing for Medicine. Still, what’s unhealthy about a little envy?
About the author: Tarbia Hamid recently completed her one year internship at Khyber Teaching Hospital, Peshawar. She can be reached at [email protected]
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