Monday, 28 January 2013
How Long Does It Take To Do A Medical Degree?
Well, for me the answer to that would be equivalent to "how long is a piece of string?" As you may have gathered already I am a medical student and I have managed to get to year four of what is normally a five year course. But in actual fact, this is my sixth year doing this course; needless to say, it has not been an easy ride.
Our story begins on a bright sunny day in September 2007 in Leeds. I remember walking into the medical school bright eyed and bushy tailed, a keen bean, an eager beaver, ready to take on the challenge of becoming a doctor. The first challenge that I had to face, however, was myself. As a teenager, I had struggled with depression and anxiety. This is not your usual feeling down or being worried, what I struggled with was paralytic fear which would descend into a helplessness that was so thick and dark, it was all consuming. However, I had been free from such ailments for a couple of years between leaving school in 2005 and starting in Leeds. In those two years, I was at St Andrews University (no I didn't meet the prince before you ask) studying biology and psychology. In 2007, I left that degree to come down to Leeds to study medicine. It was then that the monster of depression reared its ugly head once again in my life. It's really hard to describe what it is like to be depressed if you haven't experienced it yourself. It is like you have to wade through a muddy river carrying world on your shoulders in the thickest fog and you don't know when it is going to end. As a result of this, I failed my exam and had to retake that module the following year; this meant I wasn't going to be able to progress into year 2 with all of my friends. I remember feeling a huge sense of shame about failing and it ate away at me slowly.
But anyway, my year out came and went and I finally had made it into year 2. It was two weeks into starting the course again when I found a lump on my neck. That started a chain reaction of endless tests, medical miscommunication and finally, a diagnosis on the 23rd December of Hodkin Lymphoma - cancer. So that was that, I came out of university again to start chemotherapy once every two weeks for six months. My journey through that would take a book to tell, but long story short, it was really hard.
September 2010 dawns and I have been chemo free for a couple of months when I return to university, back into year 2. I actually managed to complete year 2 and year 3 in a oner, which was a major achievement for me! And now we are up to year 4 when I get the news that I have cancer again. Once again, I have to leave the course; the difference this time is that I don't know for how long. The end of this degree is tantalisingly close but again so far away. The future is ahead is unknown and uncertain and I find myself asking the question if I had three months to live, would I be doing what I'm doing now? I don't think so. I can't really imagine myself on my death bed saying "if only I finished that medical degree!". But then I guess most of us, if we are are honest, wouldn't be doing what we are doing if we knew when our time was up. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy it, but is it what I enjoy the most? Do I live to work or do I work to live?
It makes me wonder what it is about death that really focuses the mind and makes us take a look at our priorities. Is it fear? But then fear of what? Dying? Pain? What's on the other side? Or is it regret? Regret for not stewarding the time were given well? Not doing what really matters? I don't know. I don't fear death because of my faith in Jesus but I think what has focused my mind is using my time in this life wisely; doing what I was made to do. My brother once said that Usain Bolt is the fastest man on the earth, but if you put him in a rowing boat, he will lose. He was made to run, not row.
So how long does it take to do a medical degree? God knows.