Letter to My Fresher Self

 

IMG_20131207_185228[1]The  inspiration behind this article came three years ago in my final year in medical school. It is my response to the medscape students blog #letterstomyfresherself series. (Here’s the link to the other articles: http://medscape.com/viewarticle/810201_2). Though I wrote it that year, my final professional exams and the stress of the housemanship year made me forget all about it. Here it is, unabridged…

Dear Ama,

Congratulations on your admission to study Medicine at the University of Lagos, the School of 1st Choice and the Nation’s Pride in this year 2008. It’s a lifetime opportunity, one you have always dreamed of but which you don’t seem keen on anymore (after the battle of life in Diploma!). You are scared, your dreams unfold gradually and you wonder if you will meet up the challenge of reading massive ‘boring’ medical books. They remind you of the bore called Biology. Now you want to opt out for Mathematics or Engineering where you have always felt in control. Cheer up!!!

Before you think further about quitting, hear me out. I’ll give you a few tips which I hope you learn from.

First: Be happy, have fun. In Med school you’ll need as many friends as you can make and keep. Enjoy the company of your colleagues, listen and look attentively at each person so you can tell when someone needs your help. Laugh a lot, delight in their clean jokes, and look beyond each one’s beauty or homeliness. You will find in them a family that will keep you going even when you think can’t during these next five years.  Call and visit home as much as you can. Don’t forget anniversaries, exams are no excuse!!

You will feel like quitting more often than you can imagine. When that happens, say a prayer and take a break. Eat an ice-cream or go see a movie or just sleep. I tell you the clouds will clear when you are done with whichever option you choose. It doesn’t hurt to skip class once to see a movie or take a week off school each year so long as you make up for lost time as soon as you return.

Second: Develop your higher faculties. There is a temptation in medicine to abandon everything else because there is too little time to know all the stuff. Don’t fall into that trap. Each year you will have opportunities to broaden your knowledge in various subjects and acquire culture. They may present as International University congresses, science fairs, school debates, spiritual time-outs or any other extra-curricular activity you like…when they present don’t miss out.  When opportunities arise to volunteer, be they medical outreaches or service projects, find time from your busy schedule to help. There is only so much Medilag can teach you if you don’t volunteer elsewhere. Please be open to learning other languages- Spanish, French and Latin are good for starters if you want. If you are daring enough, you can try German.

There is a Leadership Centre for female undergraduates in Yaba called Afara, make out time on Saturday afternoons to be there. You’ll learn many important and useful things and it will help you grow up. You will also make a lot of non-medical friends and breathe fresh air in its homey atmosphere. There also you will find support and strength to keep running this race. There will be mentors when you need advice, cheerleaders to urge you on when the exams approach and friends to rejoice with you when you succeed at each professional exam. When you need to cry, they will likewise be there to console you.

Third: Develop your hobbies. Medical school is a long one and will consume most of your early youth. Learn a few sports, lawn tennis and swimming will do. You don’t need to learn to play up to a Pro level just learn enough to have fun and enjoy the game. They are healthy distractions. Don’t leave developing your writing skills for post-graduation because the days will not get easier.

Fourth: Make and live a timetable. You will observe that I have begun with fun before study. Well, it is clearly because whether or not you like it, Medilag will ‘make’ you study. However, so that you don’t study in a way that will wear you out quickly, make a timetable. A colleague once said “Don’t wait until you are in the mood, do what you should do (I’ll add ‘now’)”. He is right. Make a timetable for your whole day (you can call it a daily plan of life) and follow it religiously. It should include everything you do: from prayer, lectures, study down to eating, chatting, visiting friends, watching movies even sleeping.  It will help ensure the sanity you need to scale through med school without a nervous breakdown.  From it carve out your study timetable and plan to learn all you can daily.  Don’t worry if your roommates laugh when they see it on the wall over your bedside, they may not need it but you know you do. Praying is as important as or even more important than studying, never neglect either.

Always ask questions when you do not understand a lecture, you paid for it in your school fees. However if everyone else seems tired and eager to leave, meet the lecturer alone immediately after the class so you don’t annoy them.  Please, please, please no overnight study. As much as possible, sleep well at night!!  Life is difficult enough without the complications of sleeplessness.

Lastly, Mentor others. When you have won the battles of the early years of med school, please reach out to the younger students and mentor as many as you can. The best way to show gratitude for what you have received freely is to share it with others.

I promise you sister, in the next five years you’ll be happy you began this journey and especially that you made it to its end. Hang on dear, it’s worthwhile!!!

Yours always,

Ama (in 2013)