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A Decade Of The Most Crucial Lessons In My Life – Part 1

As I approach the end of my journey as a medical student, I often find myself reminiscing of my youth and early university years, more and more, day by day. In what was a very gloomy year for humankind, 2020 brought out a different and more reflective version of me. I remember seeing the “#10-year challenge” on Instagram and casting my memory back to the start of the decade and wondering, what I’d achieved?

Back in 2010, my priorities were a little bit different, whilst I was sharp and excelling at school, I was obsessed with playing sports and spending countless hours on my play-station 3, fine-tuning my forearm flexor reflexes. Safe to say my parents were less than impressed with these habits then. But 11 years on, whenever I’ve had the opportunity to take part in operations or practice laparoscopic skills on simulators, I’ve always been grateful for the hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity I taught myself and refined over hours and hours of practice.

You would think that after spending the volume of hours that I did on my hobbies, I would grasp the value of patience and determination (both critical characteristics required at medical school) but I didn’t. I was very impatient and demanded results right away. Very few teenagers understand firstly how long the journey takes to become a doctor (it’s not just 6 years, it starts when you are at school) and secondly the work ethic required. in 2012, I reached my first ever obstacle in life.

That year, my end of year exams were very average and I clearly remember my parents telling me that many teachers felt that I wasn’t making full use of my potential and that I had to become more serious and reduce errors drastically otherwise I would risk slipping grades in my GCSE’s, something I couldn’t afford to do as medicine is so fiercely competitive. These words had the magnitude of about 50 ice cold baths to my mindset and after that parent’s evening, I started to work more diligently on all of my subjects, taking care to eradicate any mistake and put myself in the best position to succeed in my GCSE’s. This process took 12 months and in 2013, I reaped my rewards and celebrated accordingly. You have to remain resilient and trust the process of hard work however long it may be. I have never forgotten this lesson.

I spent most of 2013 thinking, studying was easy and that if I worked hard, I would repeat my GCSE performances at A-level and cruise my way into medical school. However, I think my inner wiring had malfunctioned and I’d forgot the hard working “part”. I became complacent and rested on my laurels. The following final 2 years of school, were the most challenging I’d ever encountered till then, I was struggling to keep up with the pace of A-levels and for the first time in my life, I was playing catch up. Now is probably a good time to mention that, I really don’t like to make things easy for myself sometimes. None of my learning or revision techniques that had yielded me so much success previously were working. I had to come up with new ways to study material. I became more creative and tried to be as adaptable as I could, this varied from making mind maps to using creative colour schemes to try to relate certain colours to important/less important information, whilst also developing some form of photographic retention. In medicine, particularly the pre-clinical years, a lot of information is very dull and difficult to remember if we use the conventional method of revision (writing out notes and highlighting). It pays to improvise and come up with effective and informative ways of studying.

Outside of school, I was trying to build up the stereotypical cv of a typical prospective medical student by volunteering at a care home, being a school prefect, taking part in science clubs at school and continuing to play lots of sports. I found it incredibly infuriating balancing everything because in my mind it was inhibiting my ability to produce high standard work. Due to this I developed a habit of blaming a lot of things for my failures and inconsistencies. It was something that required a big shift in mindset and some harsh truths. The lesson learnt here was accountability. Once I took responsibility of my own actions, I had more focus and discipline in everything I did. Never run away from the truth, otherwise you’ll never improve. I have always been self-critical and whilst it’s something not always desirable, it’s always reinforced my attitude of taking ownership of everything I do and most importantly, pushed me to be a better person and student.

The alterations that eventually came made me incredibly relieved to be able to get over the final hurdles in school and I finished well. The school chapter of my life closed and another opened. I was now finally on the path of reaching my lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. I was ecstatic with the trend that I was showing at the half decade checkpoint. However, what lay ahead of me was something, I could never have predicted or prepared for.

See you next week…

Steven Gopaul is a British final year medical student at Masaryk university with a keen interest in General Surgery and Urology. He is also the Treasurer-Secretary at UIMS. If you have any questions, you can follow and message him on Instagram @gops_steve and on Twitter @gops_steve.

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