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Thoughts on Applying to Medical School

28 Apr

University choices have been a nagging source of confusion and insecurity over the past two years or so as I bided my time during National Service, and my woeful (perceived) lack of direction in life has probably been the chief culprit. After all, I’m only twenty- what do I know of the world, much less my future self, whom I’ll have to be accountable to as far as silly adolescent choices go. My gaze flitted from economics to behavioral economics, then to psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology before finally settling, rather uncertainly, on the vaguely-familiar yet abstruse field of medicine.

How I ended up settling on medicine remains a mystery to me, even now that I’ve received offers from overseas medical schools (to my immense relief). I suppose that I was initially repulsed by the thought of applying for medicine partly because of the vehement insistence from my parents that I apply for a “prestigious course” (aka medicine/ law). Then there is also the terrifying prospect of being shackled to (probably) one of the most draining jobs ever- what if I discovered that I don’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would? What if I’m not as good a doctor as I hope I’d be? What if I don’t have time for my family and for myself?

Several desires nudged me toward medicine, first  being my hope to escape getting stuck in a “just a job”. I have been introduced to the tantalising prospect of being a dentist, a job which my friends have agreed to be simultaneously profitable and flexible (how rare!), but my experience with an internship at a dental clinic proved beyond doubt that I had no interest in teeth whatsoever, handsome paycheck or otherwise. I suppose that the jobs with the best remuneration per unit effort per unit time tend to be the ones high up the financial chain- involved directly with the financial sector, and it is my humble and naive (and hopefully incorrect) opinion that over there, what matters most is the ability and willingness to prostitute one’s integrity for the sake of profits. So if a job isn’t just for me to bring home the bacon (or bread, or chicken rice, whatever), then what is it for?

So that brings me to my next desire, my hope for a “meaningful” career. What meaningful means, I still have no clue, even after spending the past year or so thinking about it. However, I do have a vague idea that it should entail several things, like challenge, discernible self-improvement and most importantly, betterment of the people and environment around me. Psychologist ‎Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi speaks of the flow state, where optimising a task’s difficulty level to one’s inherent ability brings about delightfully high levels of performance (with the accompanying rush of satisfaction), so I suppose that my job’s level of difficulty will be important- not too mundane, not too intractable. Next up comes self-improvement, probably self-explanatory because who doesn’t feel good from growing stronger, better, faster? The last one is probably needs the most explaining, but I think it goes way beyond the scope of this little post to discuss altruism versus self-enrichment, so I’ll just say that it’s really a phenomenal feeling to be able to make a stranger smile, to share your joys with your friends, to leave the world knowing you made it a itty bit better (yes, surprise, we all will die one day).

Last of all comes my general interests in the subject matter. Having stumbled upon the biomedical side of the library after discovering Andrew Solomon, Atul Gawande and Michael Greger, I was intrigued by how much there was that I didn’t know. And so I read on, and got sucked into the world of hospitals and discoveries and ailments and poverty and despair. And hope.

Even after (somewhat) settling on medicine as my ideal career path, there was still the tricky business of applying to medical schools. Medicine, as one of the most rigorous courses universities offer, has selection procedures of matching difficulty. Without going into the dreary logistics of the application, I have to say that the whole ordeal left me questioning whether the whole thing was worth it (to which the retort that, for goodness sake it’s for your future! comes to mind), but nonetheless, now that the whole thing is over, I would say that it is most definitely worth it as long as you are sure that you truly want medicine badly, or if your chances of getting into the school you intend to apply for are decent anyway. Nonetheless, no matter what the base rates look like, I couldn’t shake off the sense of inferiority and uncertainty- after all, medicine attracts some of the brightest students, so what makes me think that I’m good enough? After all, my A Level results were way under my expectations, and I’ve seen so many of my intelligent and charismatic friends being turned down by the local medical schools, so what chance did I have?

It was as such in spite of my misgivings that I sent my application in, with NUS’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (YLLSoM) rejecting me outright probably because I did not meet the A Level grades cut-off, but thankfully NTU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCSoM) threw me a lifeline and offered me an interview place very late on, possibly on the basis of my BMAT, where fortunately I performed much much better. The interview was by far the strangest one I’ve ever been to (although admittedly I haven’t been for many interviews in the first place), there being friendly ushers and refreshments. Regardless, the MMI itself was a mixed bag for me, with some stations which I genuinely enjoyed (such as the station about my personal statement which quickly degenerated into a chit-chat session, much to my delight), and some stations that I think I completely flopped.

As such, it is with great trepidation that I wait.