By Bowen Xia
Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre. 7 July, 1:35 pm
Hundreds of ‘tired and emotional’ medical students from the nine states and territories murmur in the crowd. In the middle of the stage sits the AMA WA President, AMSA President and other VIPs who could end your medical career with a single email. On the right-hand side sits the acclaimed UWA team whose university has blitzed the Emergency Medical Challenge, Sports Day and Brawniest Medical Student Challenge. On the left, the battered and beleaguered away team from Monash, whose university has won a grand total of zero competitions (except the most emergencies triggered). All eyes are on what their first speaker has to say. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, there must be mandatory reporting of mental health issues in doctors.’
Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation and how I have a GCS of above 3 at Convention. But to understand how we got from ‘attending convention’ to convincing important doctors and our future colleagues that we are legally obliged to report them to APHRA at the mention of ‘burnout’, we will have to start at the beginning. And no, I did not pass out from a previous night and then wake up on stage conscripted to the Monash Debating Team.
Before I attended AMSA Convention, it seemed like an exotic event where medical students attended not only to create once in a lifetime memories and friendships but to lose them at the same time, the only remnant being a one-week memory gap and 20 unexplained Ubereats orders. I decided to attend, however, after some convincing from friends and a first-ever excuse for visiting Perth. Thus, I joined the enigmatic MUKEG and decided to place my name down for Convention Debating as a joke. I had debated before, but nothing could have prepared me for Convention Debating, where the aim is not only to destroy your opponent’s arguments but to also inflict third-degree burns on your opponent and their university. Personal attacks, once a reason for disqualification, were now necessary and sufficient for success.
At Perth, I was greeted by a lovely Melbourne weather experience consisting of a heavy downpour mixed in with regrets of not bringing an umbrella. On my arrival at the Convention Centre we were all outfitted in our battle gear for this week, the universally acclaimed Monash Camo, with Monash veterans of many conventions decked with more badges than a North Korean General. The camaraderie was palpable in the air, and I soon learnt the traditions of my Convention forebearers and the ceremonies of my elders, such as the boisterous singing of Monash-themed songs and the sport of ‘rowing’.
One of the amazing therapeutic benefits of Convention was the ability to wake up every day at 7 am – a momentous feat considering my immaculate record of absenteeism at 8 am lectures. All this to prepare for the first debate against Adelaide. The Monash Debating teams of previous years were not well acquainted with success after usually being knocked out in the first round. However, we were miraculously successful. We also witnessed the neurotoxic effects of Adelaide’s water as logic and reason were unheard concepts to them. Yet what they lacked in logic they made up for in their roasting, with one of our speakers repeatedly accused of ‘dressing like a sexual offender’. However, there is no trauma a good social night cannot cure. Each social night was a fascinating concoction of music, flashing lights and dancing. Convention socials allowed me to befriend the same person three times. First cordially before social, second during and third the next day asking if we have met before. I have to admit that I was a heavy drinker during Convention – a heavy drinker of water that is, due to one specific sport, ‘Remier League. If you ever spot a group of your friends slapping their arms and faces and making strange sounds, it’s not a satanic ritual, rather an opportunity to experience a decade-long tradition.
The other reason to wake up at 7 am is to register for the awesome academic workshops. I got to experience being a forensic pathologist, orthopod and a plastic surgeon all without placing any patients at harm. The speakers for the plenaries each day were extraordinary, from gold medallists to comedians, it truly was a Convention of brilliant minds and people.
Through a whirlwind of social nights, academic days, sporting events and unprecedented debating victories, the inevitable day of the finals drew closer. As a result of my contribution to debating I was awarded with the prestigious role of ‘Victoria Guard’. I was in charge of defending her honour and dignity but ultimately, she was harmed. My fall from grace, trial and punishment could warrant a new article but let’s return to the scene.
My voice falters for a second. Riverside Theatre is silent. I think I have Broca’s Aphasia. I try to continue. Yet what if I embarrass myself? In front of my future colleagues and senior doctors? Then I remember why we were here and how tirelessly we worked to be on stage. I decide if I embarrass myself it will be because I went ‘all in’, not because I ‘folded’.
A tsunami of words runs through my mouth as I run through our model, arguments and a couple of mild bants against the opposition team. There is a bit of scattered laughter throughout the audience, but I do witness a mild smile from one of the VIPs. I end my speech and the debate continues. Both sides are neck and neck in terms of speakers and soon the adjudicators go to decide. They come out.
‘The winner of today’s debate is Monash’. After a second of making sure it’s not a ‘La La Land moment’ our team goes ecstatic. Proud Monash songs fill the room and I think I see Sir John Monash himself smiling in the audience. But all good things come to an end and convention was no exception. I left Perth with my bag a medal heavier, my heart heavy due to the end of Convention and my brain enlightened with lifelong knowledge, experience and memories.
Featured image from AMSA (Australian Medical Students Association): https://www.amsa.org.au/blog/perth-convention-2018-management-team-applications