May 19, 2017

It’s been a while since the last blog post. Poring over my previous entries, I realized how naive I have been. There was one particular post where I wrote that medical school may instantly turn me into a cynic. Folks, I was right. Now that I’m done with first year of medical school, my God, I would have to say that I’m a different person now. I am shell-shocked, traumatized. Over the academic year that has passed, I have been perverted, turned upside down, shaken more than a hundred times–mentally tortured, to say the least. I did try to be strong, to lessen my complaints, and just be all about positivity. But curiously, all the efforts of being optimistic all the time left me with nothing but scars. While trying to be pleasant all the time, I have subconsciously eschewed my right to feel all sorts of negative emotions. And now that I am left with 3 months of sheer rest and freedom, these demons that I tried my best to shoo away to bug me on another day are haunting me like I have a debt or something. My thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone.

But at this moment, I say that I am starting to feel better, lighter now, thanks to a friend who has in his magical way cracked through my hardened exterior. You see, I’m not really the type of person who is willing to open up to others about my deepest sentiments. I am in that vicious habit of bottling up my feelings and instead focus on others. But as waves of stress brought about by both of my home life and my schooling clash together to form this gigantic death wall accelerating towards my direction to devour me, I find myself doing more harm to myself than protection. I have internalized these negative feelings too much that I seem to have transformed into this soul-less robot. It affected my focus, concentration, self-esteem, even the way I connect with others. I think I rendered my friendships compromised because of my own doing. I became socially inept. Almost zero confidence. All of this chaos masked with a daily stone-cold, dismal, exhausted expression on my face… Radiated across my surroundings, unintentionally warding off possibilities with strangers around me, people who I think are amazing (Or they may seem horrible at first but they may turn out to be my favorite people).

So what’s the point of all my rambling? I learned that, I should find a way to properly channel my negative feelings. And it’s not wrong to have those kinds of feelings. I was being unfair to myself. I was too hard on myself. I demanded so much and yet didn’t give enough to myself. I neglected myself. I resorted to self-hatred whenever the tyranny of the should is “betrayed”. And so I want to take this summer break to change all of this. I do hope that it’s not too late.

I am itching to see my med school friends again, just to say to their faces how sorry I am for appearing aloof and distant, for not being able to be the friend that I can truly be for them. And in their presence I ought to treat myself better by fearlessly (and yet tactfully) expressing my truest thoughts. It’s a form of being honest to them, I find. And they deserve my authenticity and honesty because they are such wonderful people. And of course I would have to thank them for never leaving me nevertheless.

I am dying to re-ignite my fire for success and re-gain my sense of competency and purpose. I find that being generous to others of my own self will silence the internal voices that bring me down. I will be able to focus more on my academics.

I wish myself good luck for the coming days that will be for nothing and nobody but myself. I want to fall back in love with myself. I have to. This is the only life I’ve got.

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My thoughts on the UERM Biochemistry bridging program

So there’s one personal detail about me out the window: I am going to study Medicine at the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center, Inc (UERMMMCi). The academic year will formally begin in a week; that is, on August 8, 2016. Coming from a pre-med program that does not include a few units in Biochemistry in its curriculum, I decided to spend two weeks of my remaining free time to take the Bridging Program for Biochemistry under UERM.

Before deciding to take this program, I searched for informative reviews to know if it was really helpful, but I didn’t find much. So, I will try to answer the very questions I had regarding this, just like any other interested incoming first year medical student in the Philippines out there:

What exactly is the UERM Biochemistry Bridging Program?

It is a two-week refresher/starter course  provided by the Biochemistry Department of the College of Medicine of UERM for incoming first year medical students. Take note that even if you’re not going to UERM to study Medicine, you can still enroll in their course. I met one in the program who is going to FEU-NRMF for his medical studies. Usually, it takes place a few weeks just before the start of classes. In our batch, it was scheduled from July 18-29, 2016. It provides an overview or an introduction to the topics that are going to be tackled in the Biochemistry classes themselves as well as the basics (e.g., functional groups and important chemical reactions). It aims to fill the gap between the students’ lack of confidence to take on Biochemistry due to insufficient or complete lack of background and the level of difficulty of Medical Biochemistry itself (Hence, it’s called a bridging program). The program has been annually conducted for 7 years now.

How much does the program cost?

The enrollment fee for the course costed 7,000Php. It’s a heavy amount to pay (As if you haven’t shelled enough money for your education), but I’ll have you know that there are other Biochemistry bridging courses out there (usually provided by review centers in Manila) that cost MORE, ranging from 10,000Php to 13,000Php.

Aside from the price, what makes it better than the bridging courses in established review centers?

For both UERM and non-UERM students, it will be the wiser move to take it in no other than in UERM because everyone is ensured that s/he is going to be taught what s/he needs to know. Some of the lecturers are going to be professors of the UERM students for the entire year. Though the non-UERM students are not going to meet the lecturers after the bridging program, the fact remains that they are going to learn from ACTUAL PRACTICING PHYSICIANS WHO HAVE ESTABLISHED THEIR REPUTATION IN THE COMMUNITY OF MEDICAL BIOCHEMISTRY EDUCATORS. Most of the lecturers are past presidents of the Philippine Association of Academic Biochemists, and one of them is also the Dean of St. Louis University College of Medicine. Your learning materials are the brainchildren of these legends. Also, the venue of the program is conducive to learning and there are good-quality facilities to aid the teachers in teaching and the students in learning. We had our program at the Anatomy Amphitheater which looks like a movie house inside; with air conditioning units, bright lighting, a sound system, two overhead projectors, and comfortable chairs beside of which you can pull out a writing surface. In one review center, I saw that the students of their bridging program were cramped up in a small classroom where they had to sit beside each other elbow to elbow, were not provided with Powerpoint presentations, but were charged with more. And by the way, we were told that UERM has the highest score among the top medical schools in the Philippines when it comes to the performance in Biochemistry in the Physician Licensure Exams.  The bridging program in UERM may be the most affordable but its caliber is nowhere near compromised. You will be in good hands.

Does everyone need to take the course?

No. For this academic year, 450-500 applicants were accepted, but only 40 of us took the course. If you don’t have a strong background in Biochemistry, then it’s advisable to join. But if you were able to take Biochemistry in your pre-med anyway, you still don’t feel like going to school, you don’t want to spend another 7,000Php on top of more than a hundred thousand Pesos’ worth of tuition fee, or all of the above, then by all means you can self-review or not fuss about it altogether. I had classmates who took up Biochemistry in their pre-med, though. Taking the program gives some structure in reviewing compared with self-studying (unless you can really commit even when no one’s watching), and it will give you a clue on what you need to know. It also primes the mind to be school-ready. A number of people I met during the program graduated with degrees in Biology, Education, Sports Science, Physical Therapy, Biology, Medical Technology, Clinical Pharmacy, Nutrition and Dietetics, and Psychology. Your decision depends on your self-evaluation and judgment.

Are the slots limited?

Not at all! The Bridging Program is open to every first year med student who is in need of a leg-up in Medical Biochemistry. Just make sure that you enroll before the start of the bridging program.You can neither enroll in the middle of the program nor pay on a lecture-to-lecture basis. The Biochemistry Department needs to have a head count of the officially enrolled students so that they could provide each student with handouts.

So… How was it?

We went to UERM for two consecutive weeks from Monday ’til Friday, and the lectures for each day ran from 8:00am to 12:00nn. On the first day, long brown envelopes were distributed by the department to each student, containing the necessary handouts, Powerpoint presentations, a black ballpen, and stapled pieces of long bond paper for note taking. It also had a brochure that contains the schedule of our lectures per day with the topics that will be covered along with the names of the lecturers. We were welcomed by the head of the Biochemistry Department and some of the members of the faculty. One of them asked us to introduce ourselves one by one, stating our name, pre-med program, and the school we graduated from. Afterwards, we answered a pre-test regarding the topic for that day before the lecture proper. The lecture was then followed by a post-test. The same thing happened for the coming days, pre-test, lecture, post-test. In between the lectures, we were given 20 to 25-minute breaks. The lecturers also helped us get to know one another more by having us do a few activities and exercises with a group. Learning was definitely not passive and the professors encouraged questions.

Each lecturer brought his/her own style in teaching his/her assigned topic included in the program. Collectively speaking, they are overall knowledgeable, warm, and are able to bring themselves to the level of the students’ thinking to make the concepts understandable. Motivation and career advice were given to us on the side.They do not seek to intimidate the students. My respect for this department solidified further because of the vastness of the information that they know by heart!

On the last day, evaluation forms were given so that they could further improve their program for the next generation of medical students to come. That shows that they do care about the feedback of the students who enrolled, are serious about their main objective, and are more focused on that rather on mere money-making.

Would you recommend the UERM Biochemistry Bridging Program?

Definitely! But I think I should clarify that taking the bridging program won’t make Biochemistry “easy”. It’s going to be a tall order for students who took and did not take the course alike. Biochemistry is known to be a “terror” in medical studies, and it produces the most number of fatalities at the end of the year. Rather, the bridging course gives you more confidence in yourself to face Medical Biochemistry as a subject. You will have been taught what you ought to know. Social-wise, it helped me meet some of my blockmates as well as people who belong to other sections, which will make my adjustment in medical school less difficult if not easier. I can proudly say that the Bridging Program was worth the money, and even more.

I hope that this post helps future medical students get a lowdown on this bridging course. God bless us all on our journey to becoming competent and compassionate doctors!

When the only way out is through

When the only way out is through

We do not have all the solutions in our hands. Whether it has something to do with fate, destiny, or a Higher Power, sometimes things will just unfold the way they are meant to. It can get disappointing and frustrating. Matters not going our way regardless of the effort and time we put into a certain endeavor can even test our faith in God, the goodness of the world, the point of living.

Some things are just inevitable,” right. Those words come out of our mouths more often than are swallowed down. To be fair, what I’ve just quoted is a huge pill to swallow. But you know what? Once we give ourselves the chance to do it, that’s when things will start to look up. Figuratively speaking, our throats will be cleared by this seemingly choking blockage to the airway. But, if we treat the process like any other medication that is good for us, we can say that its effects on our well-being can be promising. To be clear, I don’t mean to say that our worries and problems would instantly go away, no. Rather, I’d like to think that the weight of these apprehensions would be lessened due to experienced clarity, courtesy of our willed acceptance of our plights. This particularly applies in experiencing failure.

Suddenly, it would be clear to us again that not all problems are solvable by us, the truth also remains that not all things last forever. You can outlive what you think will destroy you. This does not exclude our fears and other things that debilitate us from within. We may not always manage around our given circumstances even if we make all the possible preparations, but it would be clear to us too that after all this time, running away from the unavoidable, we had the strength to go through it all along. Win or lose, you tried. That already means a lot. Every so often, we have no other choice but to stand firmly where we wind up and let it be. By the time it is over, we’d be amazed at how come we are still around. It can be done.

Any experience can teach us anything, and this is no different from that. Amidst the hurricane and roaring thunder, life will proceed with its business. In times like what I have been talking about, all we can do is face it, let it pass, and move on. When all is still again, breathe deeply and do what you can in that moment. Hope for a better tomorrow, another chance, a fresh start maybe. Whatever happens next, you know you can take it head on for you know what you just survived from. The skies always clear after a hell storm.

Truly Living

Truly Living

BeautyBeyondBones

Fun experience the other day:

6am. The butt crack of dawn. And I’m in a cab to the airport.

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And the driver is blaring some Caribbean reggae music.

Like I think he was trying to seance Bob Marley or something because thisishwas loud.

But honestly, while a lot of other people probably would have been annoyed, I frankly loved it.

This guy was just so all about it.

He was like jammin’ in his seat, dancing, singing along sometimes. It was really entertaining.

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I have never seen someone with so much life, – so much joy ­­– especially not at 6am.

And ever since seeing the life that guy had in him, I have been more observant. More aware, more in tune with those moments that I’ve felt truly alive in my own life.

I was just on vacation inthe middle of nowhere up…

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It is not wrong to talk to strangers

It is not wrong to talk to strangers

“Do not talk to strangers”, our parents would tell the toddler version of ourselves. But as we grow up, they begin to encourage us to reach out to the same humans they forbade us to interact with early on. It’s simply a part of the natural order of life to make new connections outside of our homes. We learn to do this on the first day of nursery school, until we’re already old enough and more advanced with this skill to take it with us to the workplace, to business, to dating and romance.

Out of all the billions of people walking the face of the Earth, we will only get to know a few of them. And while it’s rationally impossible to even attempt to meet literally everyne, we’d sometimes stand at our own way in interacting with others. Some of us may breeze through initiating contact, but many still find the whole process anxiety-inducing. We overthink and have a lot of hesitations (at least at first) in making the first move, yet we are saddened by our perceived isolation, that nobody gets us, or ever will.

Even so, I get hopeful whenever I remember how we are at closer proximity with one another than we think. I was able to do so during my visit to the salon yesterday for my keratin treatment. Aside from matters that concern people’s hair in general (I have a habit of asking tons questions when I get really curious about something), Gigi (my hairdresser) and I got to talk about our lives. Along the process, I was able to know her better. When I got there for my treatment, she was just like any other hairdresser doing her job. When I stepped out and right back into the road with my newly revived hair having received some love and a second chance at life, she already wasn’t a mere hairdresser in my eyes: She’s also a single mother of three, a selfless and caring one despite of her below-minimum wage pay, a worker who spends 12 hours a day everyday to make a decent living, a person who eats much but wouldn’t gain a pound, a resilient woman who has made a lot of sacrifices to make ends meet. In between opening up about herself and knowing me as well were her insights and words of advice to me about optimizing opportunities and ensuring that my parents’ hardships in supporting my dreams will be worth it. Our exchange of thoughts also made me a touch warm inside, all because of my freedom and will to talk to a stranger.

What I’m trying to say is, since we only have one life to live which is apparently insufficient to see the world through each human being presently in existence, I find grabbing every chance we can to mingle an impelling idea. I just think that the more people we approach, the higher our chances of having potentially life-changing encounters will get. What if you find out upon leaving this world, that the man or woman of your dreams sat beside you in the train on a rainy evening and you missed out on him or her just because you thought twice about sharing your umbrella? How would you know without that first hi or hello that the person you will pass by where you happen to be at a certain time could help you re-discover the good things you forgot about yourself? How else could you meet your other needs and wants and be satisfied? Can you think of other ways to help others on their end, to be of service?

Although not every person we’ll meet we’ll get along with or be interested in us, still, there is no harm in trying. Brave up. Life isn’t short, but it’s not too long to dilly-dally either. For sure, someone out there is looking forward to meeting a person like you. It might also be just the thing you need.

In my case, Gigi gave me a look that made me more confident to face the world along with the other strangers that come with it, strangers I have yet to meet and discover for myself what makes them human beings.

My gap year in “productive idleness”

I graduated from college last 2015. After the final bow, I was clueless about what to do with my life. I was stuck. I felt I was about to get left behind, what with all my classmates getting hired, pursuing further studies, moving out of the country… They had their stuff together. They seemed to have their life already mapped out while I had no choice but to exist among them, overwhelmed and paralyzed, unable to picture a future of my own. “This is really happening”, I quivered to myself.

They weren’t kidding when they said it would be a struggle, figuring it all out after college. As much as I wanted to bust a move, I was still unsure. I’m the type of person who likes to calculate every crucial step in making decisions before taking action in order to minimize risks. In short, I value organization and preparedness over spontaneity and adventure (which I’m aware that I need more of). So I decided to take a break… A gap year.

A gap year.

Before you think me overreacting, I need to explain first and foremost this one fact about growing up in the Philippines: Taking a gap year is NOT part of the norm. Here, you are expected to move to the next level right away, save for summer breaks/semestral breaks/Christmas breaks we have within a single school year. Otherwise, you’re a bum. Simply put, you are expected to be preoccupied right away with other endeavors after you finish college. This is why I was apprehensive at first, why I felt like a loser when all the while I was just trying to not jump into things impulsively.

But looking back, I don’t regret stopping to catch my breath while everybody else was panting to wherever we’re racing forth. For crying out loud, there isn’t even a race. I realized that we’re just a bunch of people with different goals whose paths turn out to cross over at some point. In my route, I discovered a number of pit stops in places where there may be none in someone else’s. And I’m glad I didn’t ignore them: I studied for the board exams and passed; studied for the National Medical Admission Test (NMAT) and got a percentile rank enough to get me accepted into 2 out of the 2 medical schools I applied in. I had all the time I need to make sure that I am willing to dedicate my life to becoming a practicing physician. These happened within a span of 6 months. Afterwards, I got to spend more time with my family and friends. Thank You again for the invaluable blessings, Lord.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not as if each day of my gap year was filled with thrill and excitement. There were more humdrum days than invigorating ones. I didn’t have enough money to travel or indulge in my habit of reading books. Most days I didn’t even have enough to see my friends more often. I wasn’t able to enroll in a supplementary Spanish class. In spite of this, I was discouraged to take on jobs because my parents preferred the idea of me resting, but they have a point. I didn’t feel like asking money from them all the time either. We have someone at home we cannot afford to leave alone, so in the few times my family are out to spend quality time together (but primarily they have to run errands), they have no choice but to leave without me. I have to stay. These may seem like petty things compared to other existing problems on a national or global scale; but when they are accumulated and reiterated in your monotonous daily routine, it could get pretty dismal. You’d grow heartbroken by it.

Yet right now, as I prepare to say goodbye to the gap year that will have been, I thank God the Father for the highs and the lows. He taught me lessons about life and faith through subjecting me to both extremes. I cultivated enough sensitivity and awareness towards problems existing around me to ward off all the excuses my mind could come up with in giving less than my 100% in medical school. I feel that I am wiser now, more resilient, more motivated than ever. Empowered yet grounded. In my final year in college, I slowly felt my engine burning out. Now, I am energized and enthusiastic to go back to school. I don’t know if I’d still feel like this had there been no bad times.

It also became clear to me how much of the mundaness in my gap year mattered just as much as the extra-ordinariness in it.

I’m going to miss sleeping whenever I feel like it. I will miss the length of day spent in active reflection and plainly thinking about overall meaning of my life. I will miss my undisturbed stream of consciousness, my steady imagination. I will miss having all the time in the world to happily think of what I’m going to have for breakfast the next day and feel no rush in making it when I wake up. The peace and quiet I spend by myself as I luxuriously take a sip of my morning coffee. Those precious, triumphant occasions celebrated on behalf of the successes of my friends over lunch and/or dinner and intimate conversations. The placid joy and awe at the world that come with taking a moment to be captivated by my mother’s projects in the garden. I am going to miss the uninterrupted company of my mom I am grateful to have enjoyed over the year that has passed. Jokes, laughs, and exercise routines shared with my siblings with nothing else to bother us. I am going to miss the warmth of home-cooked lunches and dinners straight from the kitchen. I am going to miss not having to dress up and make myself look presentable because I’m just staying at home. It turns out as well that I’m going to miss being found reliable enough to take care of a member of the family all by myself and being thanked and appreciated for it.

The list would go on, but this post would have to end before long. And as I type this sentence, it came to me that I had been blessed by moments I won’t be able to take back and relive exactly just as how I lived them. In a month’s time, my life would never be the same again. I am all the more thankful.  I may not have gotten to do everything I wanted, but I was able to accomplish those on top of my priority list.

The unfamiliarity or strangeness found in a decision doesn’t make it a bad one. Do not  be afraid to go against the current. If you can’t help it, then fine, be scared… but do it anyway as long as it’s good for you, and you’re the only one who can weigh that. It is alright to stop for a while when things get too much to bear. The important thing is that over the long haul, you continue on.

Remember that there is no race; it’s just an illusion. Live your life at your own pace.

To motivate me when I’m already beat up by medical school

This morning is a particularly cheerful one for me. It was raining, and I got to enjoy a delicious and comforting bowl of champorado (It’s sweet chocolate rice porridge best enjoyed warm with a trickle of evaporated milk on top, a Filipino dish) paired with my usual cup of strong, acidic, black coffee for breakfast.I find the gloom of the sky outside mysteriously promising of a wonderful day. No chores, no deadlines, no errands. What a time to stay indoors.

I glanced at the calendar on the computer. It’s July 8, 2016. Today, I am exactly a month away from medical school. I am feeling a surge of quiet excitement and nervousness take over me. There’s no way I’m going to underestimate the pressures of medical school. Nevertheless, I want to keep my optimism at the highest level the pragmatic side of me may find tolerable. Above all the hype brought about by the colorful uncertainty of the future is a feeling of gratitude for having this to begin with. I’m finally doing something with my life!

On the 8th of August, my life would change forever. Perfect mornings may not come as easy as this from then on, but they’ll be replaced by meaningful sacrifices. Nights will not slow down either as I toil in my newfound responsibilities. I will meet yet another array of diverse personalities, make some friends out of them, even adversaries. From this breed of humans I will learn vast bodies of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will transform me into a person of tomorrow–A strong-willed woman doctor of competence, integrity, and service.  It’s not going to be an easy feat, but that doesn’t make it impossible.

At this point, I have so much hope for the future. I know, I know. Perhaps a week into medical school might immediately turn me into a cynic. My enthusiasm may be slowly worn off by physical and mental fatigue as days pass. My surroundings may gradually take on an ominous shade that will lend me a darker perspective on things. Definitely not everything will work out in my favor. For certain I’m going to fail, stumbling and slipping along the way. The absence of moments of self-doubt is beside the question. It may turn out to be hell on Earth. There will be times wherein I might prefer to just lay on the floor, sprawled all over the place, motionless, almost aimless.

But I will not stay there. No matter how hard it will be, I will re-gain the energy to get back up and give it another shot. I may not get things right the first time, but I will get them right. Hopefully it won’t be too late. Splashes of bright orange and fiery red will come back to fight off the miserable black and gray in my outlook. I will recall the time and effort I spent on getting here in the first place, and most importantly, WHY.

If this is what needs to happen so that I can make others feel safe and secure, then so be it. I have already accepted that I’m going to be forged in flames. This is the process we aspiring doctors have to undergo to come out as sharp (or even sharper) as the scalpel we’ll have at hand. It is the way tools and weapons are made after all. We submit ourselves to this field to become weapons that strive to eliminate no other kind of enemies but that which take a toll on the body and ultimately, life. We want to be reliable and versatile instruments that work with finesse, intensity, and restraint. This is why the hardest shards of steel are put to the test before they are molded; and there is no sense in almost deliberately throwing ourselves into the fire without believing we belong to that bunch to begin with.

With this, I’m going to be better than my would-be laziness, complaints, and resentments. Nothing from each of us who dream of donning a white coat and lending a firm but gentle hand is expected but our best; because society deserves the best, regardless of race, gender, and social status. Regardless of what time it is, what day it is, what holiday it is, whose anniversary it is, whose birthday it is. Regardless of how short or how long it will take. Regardless of where we are, whether we are inside our outside of medical school. Yes, it’s supposed to be demanding, but we’re willing to dedicate every fiber of my being to it, aren’t we? Otherwise, we should be chasing other dreams instead.

We would come out of medical school fortified with concepts and experience. By then, we have already been tried and tested. We can diagnose and treat those who will depend on us for I’d like to think when that time comes, we have also learned to do the same for ourselves on a medical and personal level. We will go on this journey knowing and believing what we’re made of, and live the rest of our lives showing that not by showing off, but by humbly serving others.

Medicine is neither a mere activity to “kill time” nor a form of passive compliance. This is not an escape or a front. Rather, choosing Medicine is sticking with our preference of fulfilling an obligation to humanity; a stand, a vocation (Did we really sign up for this?). For all we know, Medicine chose us. It is a unique face of destiny that is ours for the taking.

So keep your head up and slay in school to the best of your abilities. Work until you become the doctor everyone including yourself deserves. Become the doctor your family, peers, co-workers, patients, your country, and God would be proud of.

And by the way, self, there’s more champorado where that came from 😉