“Pa, I already thought about it. I want to become a doctor.” I told my father as my eyes were firmly stuck on the road as I drove us home from the airport. He was skeptical at first. “How would you survive medical school when you don’t even read your books?.” He asked. My parents were unfortunate to have witnessed all my “struggles” as a Nursing student back in college. Sarcasm? Yep. I never really liked studying. During those years, I was a cold-blooded slacker. Even if an examination is announced, I never studied. I was exceedingly dependent on the dubious game of chances and unmitigated luck. Sometimes I pass, sometimes I fail. Graduating on time was a huge matter to have a good muse on. It could be funny to some but no, I’m not proud of it.
Years went by and so did the good days of college. Spending four years of college in my dream university was the highlight of my life back then when medical school seemed to be found nowhere under a blanket of murky water. I met new friends — some were even really good ones that I still get in regular contact with in social media until today, seven years after.
I took a year off after college and started working for our family business back then regularly engaging in chatters with logistics and cargo boys at the airport whenever I ship electronic products to our small computer and electronics shop in the province. Having about a year to think about one of the biggest life decisions I had to make, 2011 felt like two years compressed in three hundred sixty-five days. I was able to convince my parents about entering medical school when I asked the Universe for “signs”. I’m not usually that kind person who depends on signs. But since luck and taking chances has always been my style of play, I didn’t have second thoughts in putting everything on the line.
A National Medical Admission Test (NMAT) percentile rank of at least 80th and qualifying for my dream medical school were among the first “signs” that I sought. For starters, NMAT is the first step that every aspiring Filipino doctor should make to become a physician. It’s an examination comparable to the United States’ Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), testing every aspirant’s knowledge on basic sciences, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Most medical schools in the Philippines has a cutoff percentile rank of their own. In my university, it was 80. I felt God’s grace when I saw the numbers 8 and 0 on my computer monitor upon checking the results online.
My alma mater, the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, has an idiosyncratic way of selecting their students. Annually, about 2,500 aspirants from different islands in the Philippine archipelago apply for admission and only less than 500 qualifies. The admission process itself is a challenge to every applicant’s patience. Letters of recommendation are sent to four different recipients: a college professor, your college guidance counselor, a psychology professor, and your community parish priest. Once you’re done with the letters, you’ll now proceed to psychological testing consisting of a 50-item written examination with practical situational questions that an applicant should answer depending on his own insight. Some people I knew who made it to the Dean’s list back in college did not qualify. However, some average (or even below average) students like me did. Like I said, nobody really knows how the board selects their roster of students for the academic year.
After all the hustles that I had to engage with during the application process, I qualified. I saw my name on the list pinned on a huge corkboard enclosed in a glass pane just beside the windows to the Dean’s office. The feeling was surreal. Who would ever think that someone like me, a student who almost didn’t care about studying back in college, would qualify to one of the country’s top-performing medical schools? Even I couldn’t believe it. Maybe God placed me there to change some things that should be changed. Like being too carefree. Or being too dependent on chances and luck. And I was not wrong. Medical school was life-changing.
I made a pact to be a good student and realize my dream of becoming a doctor when reality began to sink in. It was a huge step that I had to make. Some of our friends in the United States even started offering for help to land a job for me there. But nah, I never bought ’em. That time, I already knew what I really wanted. Folks, things never changed since Kindergarten. To become a doctor is what I want to be.
Que Deus nos bendigo y nos proteja,