Conquering an Ocean

BY PHOEBE CHEN

Prompt 2: The life so short, the craft so long to learn’ – Hippocrates. What are the sacrifices we all make in order to perfect the art of medicine?

Our courses and careers are oceans; and, being as driven as we are, we set our sights on the most perilous ocean of all, the most respected, the most feared: medicine. 

With water stretching beyond the eye’s view, medicine is a vast expanse of knowledge — so this knowledge is what defines the rat race that we will run for the rest of our lives. 

In this race, thereare two types of med students: those who chose it because of the science, and those for the art.

The science-minded set sail with purpose, ready to absorb all the facts to face the waves. Anatomy. Pathophysiology. Pharmacology. With clinical precision, they are the experts in class, having built their foundations on an ever-expanding empire of Anki decks, succinct summaries and superhuman self-discipline. Ever the model med student we all aspire to be, they readily provide answers to diagnose, investigate, treat and repeat. 

The art-inclined appear more adrift, at times letting the waves carry them forward, at others beaten down by the currents. Culture, lifestyle, psychology. Learning the cold, hard facts for the sake of knowledge — yawn — is met with boredom, or acquiesced acceptance. It’s the human touch that makes it all worthwhile, that’s what gets them out of bed, and that’s why they chose medicine… “to help people”. 

By this measure, the former are the captains of their own ships, sailing miles ahead. The latter are seen as inferior, as the knowledge pours in one ear and out the other, sometimes completely washing over their heads. But no matter, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Scott Fitzgerald definitely wasn’t exactly thinking about med students when he wrote The Great Gatsby, but it captures the idea…that maybe we’ve been looking at this wrong the entire time.

~

After the euphoria of acceptance into med school faded, in crept weary resignation. I came into first year thinking, “Well, I’m going to be buried in books for the rest of my life,” somehow ironically missing the fact that I had spent most of high school like that already.

And that’s the problem. It starts in high school, because the system — whether VCE, HSC orinternational— tests your knowledge and determines your intelligence based on a number, so you take the wrong idea away, believing it to be a measure of your self-worth. Even worse, the system is in fact no true measure of knowledge nor intelligence. 

What we really end up doing is gaming the system to achieve the highest numbers. We trained to become study machines, because that’s the price we pay to get in, and the price we pay to stay. But only learning to study limits you to one dimension of intelligence. Obviously, we overcome this with extracurriculars and jobs. But sometimes that’s less so out of genuine interest, and more just a practical move to tick all the boxes.

Now the ATARs have morphed into CVs, so we work towards building the perfect resume for that internship one day, then our dream specialty and then…the finish line stretches onwards. Because tomorrow “we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And then one fine morning —”, we think our sacrifice — of our lives, our enjoyment, our happiness — will finally be worth all the misery it took to get there. 

It’s as though being drained by medicine is a rite of passage. Because if you’re not stressed out, struggling to balance all your commitments and deprived of a social life, are you even doing it right?

We’ve been so ingrained with the idea that we must constantly work towards the destination that our journey is moulded solely to reach that aspiration, even if it asphyxiates us in the process.

That’s because we focus and sharpen our science whilst suppressing and dismissing the art within ourselves. But the best future doctors combine both — scientific knowledge, with the artistic secret ingredient — wisdom.

~

Whilst knowledge is about doing, wisdom is about being.

Knowledge wants to get into the ocean no matter the weather, but wisdom quietly heads for the shore rather than be battered by the storm, so as to go full speed ahead when the waters are still.  

Knowledge makes you “run faster, stretch [your arms out] farther,” where wisdom recognises that “one fine morning” was never going to arrive at your door; because it’s already here within yourself.

Knowledge must be learnt and learnt again, but the beauty of wisdom is that it will always stay with you, once you realise the truth.

Your mind is your sharpest weapon, but it is your mindset that harnesses its strengths and tempers its excesses. Knowledge and wisdom are really two sides of the same coin, where the former pragmatically accepts sacrifice as inevitable, the latter chooses to see the inherent idealism in its path.

So you strike a balance between the two, and come to the conclusion that medicine is a lifelong voyage, and that by undertaking the commitment to learning and growth you are living your ideal — at once knowing you are good enough but promising to strive to be better — and that’s as close to perfect as it can be. 

Life is your birthright‚ they hid that in the fine print 

Take the pen and rewrite it

— Beyoncé, Bigger

Medicine does command more from us than most. The waves are higher, the storms are rougher and the hurricanes are larger — so it is only instinctive to see it all as sacrifice. 

But the ocean does not exist by itself. Medicine is a significant part of our lives, but is not the only thing which defines it. We are so busy looking forwards, we forget to look upwards — towards the sky, toward the rest of life. Sometimes life makes med hard, sometimes med makes life hard, but both are only parts in a grander balance of nature. So, changing your worldview on life also transforms your perspective about medicine.

Even if you master how to batter against each and every single pre-clinical wave, that does not prepare you for the cyclones and typhoons of the clinical years. Whilst knowledge must have control to alleviate that fear, wisdom recognises that you don’t have to conquer an ocean in order to navigate nature. Constant change is the only certainty, so you accept the uncertainty — because it’s all water. Even hurricanes come to pass, with calm days on the horizon; because the bad times will always have some good — you just need to look up. 

When knowledge views life as a threat, you just survive — and some do better than others. Wisdom sees it as a challenge, and rises to it — and that makes the difference to let you truly thrive. So rewrite those limiting beliefs and narratives in your head, so you can chart the course to fulfil your destiny. 

Coping with Exams During COVID

By Nicholas Wilkes

With exams on the horizon, many of us may be feeling overwhelmed with how much work we still need to do and how little time there is to do it with all the other personal and professional responsibilities in our day to day lives. When feeling stressed and overwhelmed, it can be tough to know where to even get started on work. Instead, it’s easy to find ourselves lamenting that we didn’t start earlier or spent too much time studying something “low yield” that may not come up on the exam. 

Many of us may normally rely on calling friends or studying with friends in the library in order to provide support during stressful times, and to structure our days, however for many of us now it’s hard to keep those habits when you may not be able to see them in person. Keeping all this in mind, it has never been more important to remember to take care of yourself and maintain those connections, albeit in the form of a Zoom call study session instead of an in-person study session in Matheson.

While everyone has their own ways to study, not forgetting to have a healthy routine and separating work from personal time is important to stay on top of things and feel more satisfied with the work you have done. Setting a designated study area (ideally out of your bedroom) with fixed working hours (as if you were going to hospital or university) with breaks where you can exercise, cook something new or just call friends and family to vent about a long week can help to prevent feeling too overwhelmed and carrying over that stress from working to your down time.

There may be no one-size-fits-all solution that can be condensed into a wellness article, and we may all have different problems or concerns, whether that be worrying about whether you’ll ever examine a newborn and experience all that med school can offer whilst being off placement, or spending 40+ hours a week on placement wondering if your Z score will handle less revision time than your peers. However, keep in mind that we are all in these uncertain times together and no matter your situation, finding the time to take care of yourself has never been more important. Whether it be from a friend, parent or GP/counsellor, make sure you’re reaching out if you need help.

Below are some academic resources and study tools which will hopefully make your life easier:

Phone counselling service @ Monash

Call 1300 788 336 [1300 STUDENT]

Telephone counselling open 24 hours.

  • From Malaysia: 1800 818 356 (toll free)
  • From Italy: 800 791 847 (toll free)
  • From elsewhere: Students +61 2 8295 2917 | Staff +61 2 8295 2292

More information can be found here.

Or contact MUMUS Community and Wellbeing

Flawed Flawless

BY JASMINE ELLIOT

Surgeon’s hands. Dextrous. Skilled. Perfected in the art of cutting. Tying. Suturing. Healing.

The ED physician’s brain. Quick. Agile. Perfected in rising to the task. In keeping people alive.

The interns. Acing exams. Answering questions on rounds. Typing notes.

Me. Room to grow. Not quite good enough. Still getting so much wrong.

I so strongly believed that perfect was what made a doctor good. Always knowing the answer. Putting patients first and leaving no stone un-meticulously-turned. How could I possibly fill the gleaming shoes of those before me?

I stared down this impossible task of shaping myself to fit the mould. If I couldn’t Cinderella my way to the glass slipper of perfection, I could sacrifice my toes in the fashion of her stepsisters.  I worked harder. Pushed myself further. I leapt from tutorials to the gym, eating salads and staying up late studying. Arriving at the library as the doors were unlocked and staying until the security guards ushered us into the night. Despite all of this, when the marks finally descended on my inbox, I inevitably hated the numbers I so strongly believed reflected the investment I had made.

How were they all so effortlessly perfect, a flight of swans, gliding gracefully across the surface of the lake?

I remember earlier this year, listening to a lecture during orientation. I internally scoffed when we were told learning the bare minimum was enough – that the goal wasn’t to know it all, but enough to pass the exams, to stay out of ‘looking stupid’ but to accept our limitations.

But then I walked into the hospital, and after a few weeks I started leaving my rose-tinted glasses at the revolving doors.

The surgeon’s hands were not perfect, they hit nerves and cut vessels.   

The ED physicians ordered the wrong tests, left patients waiting and missed diagnoses.

The interns weren’t perfect doctors, but often perfect at the art of disguise, faking it until they make it. But ‘making it’ wasn’t perfection anymore.

I saw them as swans, gliding across the lake, barely displacing a ripple. But behind the illusion, underneath the lake, was a hospital of health professionals paddling like hell. Stirring up the water, the algae and probably annoying some turtles.

Beyond those revolving doors I gained an insight into the role of humanity in softening the angles of perfect. That in the mistakes of others lay relatability and rapport. I discovered that perfecting the art of medicine is accepting imperfection.

It’s accepting that the artery wasn’t meant to be cut, dealing with the bleed and moving on.

It’s asking for help from colleagues in the hospital, our friends and family in the home.

My feet were never meant to fit into the shoes I left at the doorway to becoming a health professional. No one’s feet are meant to fit those shoes.

The clinical orientation lecturer quoted Voltaire – “perfect is the enemy of good.” It’s an easy ideal to shout from the rooftops and tout in writing competition entries, but seeing those around me face the same daily battle with perfection, I know that we’ll never welcome it into our own homes as easily. We’ll keep chasing the dream. The 100% and the thrill of achievement. But if we strive for perfect, we will never be good enough.

Good enough is the doctor that saves lives.

Good enough is the doctor whose patient raves about them to friends and family.

Good enough is the doctor who brings babies into the world and holds their hands as they leave.

In the pursuit of good, we must sacrifice perfect and let best be the caterpillar that metamorphosises into better.

Because even flawless has flaws.