Dear You,

You have for so long been striving hard, and yet it seems that grades are not your thing. You entered SLCM as, or vying to be, a scholar, and it seems that it is not keen on making you one next year. You are not on the list of honors in your batch and it makes you feel bad, or worse, hateful with yourself for being one of the “cellar-dwellers” in a place proud to be a breeding ground of excellence.

Here is what is happening – you study day and night, perhaps doing patient reports late into the next daylight, or maybe studying for that FOM quiz for tomorrow, or for that Case Analysis in Pathology, only to arrive in that fateful day and find out you’ve had a failing grade. The effort poured is not commensurate with the returns. You begin again to hate yourself, to wallow in self-pity, and to engage in a vicious cycle of self-doubt and paralyzing anxiety – you might not be able to make it.

All of these are not your fault. The amount of responsibility that is given to us students for failing is overestimated if we compare it to the status quo’s propensity to inflict, even to the most intelligent students like you, crippling psychological burden. It is accountable as much as the student in causing anguish. It is  responsible for reducing you to something much less than you really are. That burden, simply, is that your value and your capacity to define your future as a doctor is vested on two numbers: your rank and your grade. If either falls, your value in the residency market falls.

It is a sad reality to be a mere commodity, to be pushed helpless by a status-quo that will likely judge your residency application based on how you perform now, as a medical student – and now is the time, yet now is so difficult, now is so unfair, and now requires you to sacrifice your hunger to learn interesting lessons to a sorry alternative of mindless memorization, all in order to deal with the amount of lessons that you need to study. You are forced to use testmanship strategies which overestimates your true understanding of the essentials, and to rely too much on predigested information (transes) in order to pass an exam. And when faced with a probing question by a consultant, you could only stutter because your mind is already primed to a style of studying that exams demand.

If you are feeling anxious, scared, or depressed because your grades are making you feel worthless, then know that you are not alone. I’ll have the audacity to tell you that your feelings are correct, and you should examine it, use it, and turn it into something much better. Do not murder it for it is your sense of justice that will evaporate – your idealism – and that will be the saddest thing that will happen to a medical student condemned to answer exams for the best part of the next four or five years: to give in and say with full resignation: ganun talaga  eh.

I can only shudder to imagine how this can and has perpetuated a flawed system of medical education.

But that is for another discussion. For now, you need to survive. I could tell you that you just have to get over it and you will do fine and things will get better (it will, in time), but I know it is not that simple. So I will tell you the best way that I can find, in my own helplessness of finding something fruitful to say, to try to encourage and inspire you:

“Do not go gentle into that good night; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

That poem has helped me get over my own down times as a student. Its message is simple: do not give in to death that easily; and death in this sense that I am writing this is not just you failing or losing a scholarship. It is the loss of good values and principles in exchange of survival.

Indeed, survive as things are, but rage against how the system attempts to label you. Do not go gentle into your dreams; compromise but never succumb to its means. Do not give up your passion for learning, but learn to engage and dictate the pace of its own game. Give yourself the time to adjust and to reconstitute after each skirmish, and afterwards, the graciousness to forgive yourself for mistakes made.

Do not compare yourself with others, for they too have their own battles that they need to win. Do not compete for they are there not as competitors but as collaborators. They are your future colleagues. Seek help, and people will extend a hand, including those who are having a difficult time like you; because the truth of the matter is that you are not fighting alone. Let the sense of familyhood and oneness win over dog-eats-dog where everyone is desperate to outshine each other.

Help each other out, lift each other up. Do not let others define you.

Get a support system of like-minded individuals, those who have the gall to continuously question the status quo and mold new ideas to resolve this enduring problem so as not to lose your passion for true learning. Get those who desire to understand, like you do, and talk to them, share your ideals and dreams so that when it is your turn to mold new doctors, when it is your turn to share better ways to serve patients, you’ll know what to do.

Harness strength from everyone who supports you, understand the reason for your struggle and use it to work around the system. Do not be afraid to give constructive critical feedback and do not fall into cynicism; the administration and the faculty are your friends and your partners in discerning the solution to this conundrum. No other medical school administration is perhaps closer to its students than the one in the St. Luke’s College of Medicine.

Have the courage to speak up and be understood like how a true Lukan should be. Some change is possible now, and that is the least that we can do to act – contribute in our own little way so that little by little, as we progress, we make lives more reasonable for future Lukans and medical students.

All of these so that this worn out educational system, which will be in our hands as future leaders and educators, will no longer repeat its self-sustaining cycle among our peers; and thus eradicate the helpless attitude of ganun talaga eh among ourselves and our peers.

SJ