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Medicine: Thinking outside the box rather than just ticking it

Third year Medic Luisa Peress reminds us that there is more to medicine than just the medical

Faculty members, relatives and acquaintances repeatedly tell medical students that they are ‘different’. They are not merely inferring that, once graduated, we will most likely be employed within six months and have a higher than average salary. I believe people tell us ‘we are different’ in reference to the gift we are given at such a young age, of people opening up with us and offering us their trust. We are different because we are given the opportunity to bear witness to life and death, joy and suffering, to develop kindness and compassion whilst simultaneously acquiring remarkable amounts of knowledge.

However, in recent years the shift has been towards academic knowledge as the ultimate goal, rather than part of learning medicine as a way of life driven by our personal values. The application process to study medicine significantly focuses on A-level results, and less value is given to extra-curricular activities and personal interests. Various seniors often tell me that the general atmosphere within the Students’ Union is different to what it used to be. Students are less prone to do anything that is not accompanied by a certificate that can be added to our CVs, forgetting that life does not offer us documentation for every time we perform a good deed.

I firmly believe that everyone should continue striving to be academically successful as, ultimately, it is medical knowledge that saves lives. However, this is not the whole picture; the fine line between empathy and professional detachment, learning to be knowledgeable and humble and important life lessons cannot be learnt solely from books. I have seen a few incredibly knowledgeable doctors lacking basic decency towards patients and colleagues, doing things “to the patient” rather than “for the patient”.

The result of this increased academic spin at university – which seems to be particular but not unique to medicine – has implications beyond students contributing less to social activities. Due to this spin, students go through medical school making sure that each task they perform is simply another ticked box in an almost-endless list of expectations. Many of us forget to immerse ourselves in the many learning opportunities we are offered. Doctor Zubin Damania, in his TEDMED 2012 talk, expressed better than I can what this can lead to: “If we just kept our head down, followed the rules, we progressed to the next step; but each time we did that we lost a bit of our autonomy, we lost a bit of our ability to take risk, we lost a bit of who we were.”

Three years ago, at the time of my medical interview, I was enthusiastic to start a course that would allow me to grow – both by attaining invaluable knowledge and growing as a person. I believe this was the case for most of us students and yet, once accepted into medical school, we became too busy following strategies. We focused almost entirely on academic success, forgetting that medicine is not only about how we perform in an exam. We lost ourselves between routines and boxes to tick to proceed to the next stage of our careers. We kept becoming more perfect but less human. It is true, pursuing a career in medicine definitely means making sacrifices, but it doesn’t require us to sacrifice our passions, humanity, and who we are. I believe that we can and should be academically successful alongside doing things we enjoy. We should learn medicine from actively doing medicine.

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