When one thinks about learning, it’s usually the life experiences that come to mind because academics is said to be tantamount to studying. I’d like to disagree. I believe I did learn academically during my first year. It was a different kind of studying as it became learning. I did not let myself just pass this whole year by. Despite my inner battles (almost giving up med school), first year med did its part in making me learn. It felt so close yet so far from undergrad. I used to let go of topics I didn’t understand but I never did that here in med school. My goal to become a compassionate doctor gave me the determination to learn everything I can and to just enjoy whatever comes. It’s not just some random course that I have to pass anymore; it’s the real deal. Everything I will learn here, I will definitely use to help my future patients.

Let me take you back to where it all began. A part of our batch’s Freshman Orientation Program (FOP) is to go on-tour around campus, meet the different organizations and participate in their activities. It was AGAPE’s, SLCM’s Christian Community, activity that served as the spark, which eventually turned into a fire, and made me who I am today as a Lukan medical student. We were given long blank stickers and permanent markers and were asked to write what we love and then stick them onto our shirts. I couldn’t remember what my tour mates wrote on theirs, except for one, who immediately, without second thoughts, upon finding out the name of one our upper class men who happened to be her first crush of the year, wrote his name on her sticker, plastered it on her shirt and stood loud and proud: “I ♥ Alejandro.” I wrote “Nics ♥ helping.” Acknowledging my passion early on is what this activity taught me. I believe it’s who I was called for, to help others. And by helping others, I am able to receive help from them as well. There are moments when I felt frustrated and helpless, not being able to help my batch mates who really needed help. I can only do so much and this I had to swallow hard and digest despite my lack of specific enzymes.

The first few weeks of school are one of the most stressful parts of being a freshman student. Everything and everyone was new. It’s just overwhelming! There were so much people to know and discover and which people to go with was the most difficult part for me, considering that I am extremely introvert, yes, extremely. But lo and behold, I became class president. I had all the doubts, all the anxieties and all the negative feelings about being president. Nevertheless, I accepted the position. I did my best and gave all my energy in learning and leading my batch. Did it turn out well? Indeed it did. As a matter of fact, a lot of students urged me to run for the student council, which I immediately declined. I heard comments like “I was rooting for you to run for the student council! Why didn’t you?” or “You should have ran for a position in the student council!” I declined not because I was afraid to lose or because I was afraid my studies would be affected. I declined because I knew it was not for me. Some students are meant to serve as student council officers; some are not. Some of us are meant to be popular, the go-to guy in just about anything, the class clown, the number one or whatnot. The point is, it doesn’t matter. Wherever you are at the social strata that society dictates shouldn’t matter because what matters is what you are willing to give and do for others, whether in position or not. No matter how small you think you are, you are capable of inculcating change. I may be class president, but I’m just as good as you, and you, me. And I am helping others not because I am class president but because I want to.

I learned that being responsible sucks the life out of you at some point. It’s a realization I would always get every time I am chosen to lead. The responsibility I show makes it much easier for others to give me more responsibilities, because they see I can be trusted. A few months before my first academic year started, a Facebook age for our batch was made for communicating inquiries and getting to know each other. I started it with questions about uniform, book prices and dormitories, and with uploads for everyone’s reference. Even before I did all of those, I knew people would either hate me or like me. But I still did, simply because I wanted to. My thoughts before and after initiating to do something: “If I die today, I wouldn’t die in vain.”

I entered medical school with the highest hopes and standards of doing well or even better than my undergraduate years. Being grade-conscious, I would always feel pressured whenever exams are near. After a few months, I ended up hating med school. Med school became a juggling act and I was always on the verge of losing one aspect of my med life. After a few realizations I decided to cut back on the pressure-inducing goals of achieving. It wasn’t very easy especially if you’ve been programmed to do it since elementary, like most of us. But eventually I managed to keep my expectations realistic, develop better study habits and be kind to myself. At the end of the year, I did way better than I realistically expected. It was a very humbling experience.

When we think about school, we usually think about the best in our class, the winners of competitions, the talented, the geniuses, the gifted, the leaders, you name it. But ranking never really mattered anymore. It’s such a waste of space in our brains, yet people bring each other down just to get on top. Our national system might still be flawed up to this day because of the constant recognition of the top board exam passers, but it doesn’t mean we’ll forever be trapped in it. Zooming into the micro-scale of an institution, we would still see rankings and recognition of top performers. I learned that it’s not wrong to achieve and excel academically and in other aspects, but if it inculcates a culture of comparison, competition, selfishness and crab mentality, then I believe we no longer have any use for it. I stopped looking at my classmate’s grades and started comparing my current grades from my previous ones and I realized which parts I have to improve on. I started building teams and sharing a bond with my batch mates and I learned more about them and myself.

Med school, no matter how fun and fulfilling, still made me want to give up at some point. Whenever I feel like giving up, I always think about my patients-to-be. We had two sessions of patient-centered interviews and tours around the medical center. These activities I might say are the candles that never stopped burning brightly within us. They would often be blocked and drowned by the bulk of our transcriptions and books but upon seeing and encountering patients, that candle within me lights up and radiates heat once again and I am ready to face the challenges ahead. It never made my life any easier; in fact it made it more challenging because of the many techniques and procedures I still have to learn and master to be able to really treat and care for my future patients. But it is always worth the fatigue, stress, seemingly endless pages and fulfillment of learning.

The most difficult aspect of my med life was learning how to love myself. For me, loving one’s self is accepting my limitations but never settling for less. It is reading a few more pages of Guyton after a very draining lecture. It is asking for help when I can no longer understand the topic. It is taking a deep breath and keeping my cool when the clock ticks at two and my group is only halfway in finishing our case presentation. It is giving myself enough rest when I’ve done enough (Exam week or not, I sleep 7 hours a night). It is going to McDonald’s for ice cream and fries during hard times. It is thinking about the countless blessings God gives me every day. It is discovering who I am, what I am capable of doing, and how this awareness should be molded in such a way that it fulfills my purpose in life – to serve, to help others. Being positive was the most difficult part because a single and minor negative event can easily ignite my myopic view on things and this would spiral down into a bad day. I would always pray at the end of the day and think about my blessings even if it was the worst day. Most times a bucket of tears rids me of all the negativity and I start anew, still afraid of what might come, but ready to face my trials.

What made life easier for me was using my power of choice. I had the power to choose how I’d approach a difficult and stressful task. I had the power to choose my friends (very critical). I had the power to take things positively or negatively. But the truth is, it never came out that easily. Despite the many choices in front of me, I still ended up choosing the wrong ones most of the time. But that never stopped me from trying again and learning from my mistakes. I learned that developing an open perspective in life, especially during hard times in med school was my saving grace. This was what being class president taught me the most. Everyone comes to me whenever they needed help and because of this I was exposed to different characters and perspectives that broadened the way I see things. Everyone was always something new to learn and appreciate. “We need eyes to see what’s real. We need eyes to see what’s right. We need eyes to see what’s true.” The road to MD started with my decision to pursue what I desire – to help others. Until now, this is what holds me together.

In essence, medical school made a simple but deep mark in me. It made me realize that at the end of this five-year journey, whether I was at the bottom of the class list or my batch mate topped the physician licensure exam, doesn’t matter. You know why? Our patients will not ask us if we did well during med school. They wouldn’t ask if us we made it to the cut-off grade for full scholarship or not. They will only give us their full trust because we are their doctors. Are you ready to become a doctor?