Tuesday, March 27, 2012
"Why medicine" part 2
The first time in my life that I thought of what my future career would be, I was in grade 3. I had just received my results for the University of New South Wales Mathematics competition. To be honest, I thought I didn't do that well because I couldn't do a few questions. But somehow I got a High Distinction (99th percentile in the state. Of course, Australian performance in math does not stand up to East Asian nations though, as I would learn later).
I still remember the time when I got that award back in year three. In my primary school, usually these types of awards were announced on the asphalt outside during the assembly on Friday before class. However, on this day it was raining, so we had "assembly" while sitting in our classrooms, with the announcements being announced through the loudspeaker. We didn't know what scores we got beforehand, but I started becoming a bit nervous when they started to announce who got what class of award.
First, they announced everyone who got Participation. Since I remember getting some questions wrong (I actually left some blank because I didn't have good test taking strategy at the time; something my dad told me not to do after that test), I was somewhat relieved when they moved onto those who got Credit. I was still waiting for my name. Then they moved onto Distinction. I was still waiting. Then they finished reading the names of people who got Distinction, and I was starting to think that maybe they forgot to read my name under one of the earlier categories.
Then they announced that I had achieved a High Distinction. I was quite shocked! I remember my teacher congratulating me, and the vice-principal congratulating me when I went to the office to collect my award. It was really an experience for me, because before that day, I actually didn't know that I was good at anything. From that day, my motivation for learning increased considerably, and I felt the need to "defend my position".
Anyway, so at that time, I had a vague idea that I would become a "mathematician". I did enjoy mathematics and I was good at it, so it seemed to be a good option. I didn't really have much of an idea of what they did in real life though. Perhaps I had more of the image of a statistician in mind. But that was the first vague idea I had of a future career back in year 3.
I guess that enthusiasm for being a "mathematician" died out after a while, or maybe I just didn't know any mathematicians in real life so I didn't know if it was a viable career. There wasn't really a need to think about future careers at that age.
However, later on in grade 6, I passed the accelerated learning program test for a high school. They invited me for an interview, so my parents decided to practice potential interview questions with me. A really obvious one was: "What do you want to do in the future?"
Although I was interested in mathematics, and I had a vague idea of being a "mathematician" three years beforehand, I didn't know if it was something which had a good career. I was also interested in science. I guess I hadn't thought of that topic very much. So my answer to my parents, after a bit of thought, was: "I don't know."
They were understanding about it. After all, why would you need to think about something like that so early? The only reason it was brought up was because of this interview thing. But they decided to give me some guidance: "If you don't know, try to become a doctor".
They said a few good points about medicine, such as relative stability, respect and reasonable pay. I felt that it was a very reasonable thing to aim for. I don't think that I thought of being a doctor before that, but I always did wonder how the doctor knew what was wrong with me when I went to him, and how he knew how to treat any conditions that I had. I was also quite interested in science. So it seemed like a good choice at the time.
Anyway, fast forward a few years and I did VCE. I was still very interested in science and math. However, my UMAT score was not good enough, and my English was not that good. So despite receiving study scores of 47 or higher in all my other subjects in VCE, my ENTER score was not above 99 and I had almost no chance getting in anywhere in Australia for undergraduate medicine (although I didn't apply to JCU or Bond).
Ah well. Not to be deterred from the goal of medicine, I had Biomedicine (at Melbourne) below Medicine (at Monash) on my preference list for VTAC. The prevailing wisdom was that graduate entry medicine had a lot less competition than undergraduate entry medicine, so if I was serious about medicine, I should try for graduate entry if I didn't get into undergraduate entry. (By looking at the GAMSAT cutoffs for interview for various unis, and comparing them with UMAT ones, it seems like that was exactly the case up until the 2012 entry admission cycle, when they've seemed to equalize somewhat).
Of course, I had classmates from high school who didn't do Biomedicine or Biomedical Science or Science. Some of them did Commerce. To be honest, I never really considered Commerce at the time, perhaps because it wasn't that related to the science subjects I was doing (I did discuss engineering with my parents, but my dad didn't think it was a good idea because the manufacturing industry isn't doing that greatly in Australia. Of course, that's only part of the story as there's different types of engineering, but I guess Medicine was a pretty good goal anyway).
But when I looked into it, Commerce also seemed like a viable option for me if I wanted to do it. My friend was planning to major in Actuarial Studies, which is quite mathematically involved. Maybe if I didn't get into medicine and I pursued this path I could become a "mathematician" after all! (I guess I did "defend my position" in mathematics despite skipping a year; I received a Premier's VCE award in Mathematics and received a High Distinction and was top 1% in the state for the Australian Mathematics Competition.)
Anyway, even though I could see myself doing reasonably well as an engineer or doing something commerce-related, I still stayed trying to get into the medicine path. Biology was a bit of a struggle in first year, but I got through it. Then I got 77 Overall (70 Melbourne score) in my first GAMSAT sitting in 2010, while achieving a section 3 score of 100! I was very excited. I knew that it was clearly enough for UQ without needing an interview for a CSP place. So under those conditions, I knew that I would be able to make it into Medicine quite comfortably, one way or another.
However, in second year, the volume of biomedical science knowledge to remember was greatly increased. It was initially a struggle to keep up (a lot harder than the GAMSAT if you ask me), but I guess I managed to. Then in 2011 I redid the GAMSAT and got 83 overall (77 Melbourne score), still having a section 3 score of 100. And after all the events of last year, I finally got into Melbourne Medicine.
So that's a bit more about my journey and how I ended up here today. A few weeks into medicine, it's not too different to what I expected. CSLs (PBLs) seem to function reasonably well though (better than expectation), because people either know things (since most people have bioscience backgrounds at UniMelb due to the prerequisites) or we can look up definitions/symptoms on the internet using laptops/phones quickly when the tutors emphasize self directed learning and don't want to give us the answers. I would still prefer if they could give us the answers if we were stuck though.
As for the workload, it doesn't actually seem as bad as some seemed to suggest. I don't notice too much of a difference from biomed in terms of the workload. However, maybe that is because I've covered a considerable amount of the material before in biomed. I can see that it would be harder if you only did the prerequisites of anatomy, physiology and biochemistry apart from the prerequisite first year subjects for those.
Ah... I can't believe I spent over an hour just doing this. But the deed is done.