The Drop-Out Doc

I had always wanted to be a doctor; it was just something I vividly recall saying each time someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I grew up reading medical encyclopedias and enjoyed finding out about various diseases I couldn’t even pronounce. Upon completing elementary school, I was unceremoniously shipped to a science high school about 20 km. away from our home.

I was always one of the brightest girls in my class and though going to a science high school presented me with several opportunities for adjustments at first, I managed to stay afloat. I was fortunate enough to have made a group of friends who had unique areas of specialization. Together, we managed to cover all our major subjects. We were given voluminous homework  everyday, and the fact that we were doing 12 hours a day in school with only an hour lunch break and two fifteen minute breaks in between did not help at all. In time, we found a way to adapt by doing teach-back sessions so we could save ourselves some time going through all the required readings in each subject. There were a few hiccups along the way, but ultimately we reached our goal to finish high school and even did so with flying colors.

I already had nagging doubts about going to pre-med but somehow I managed to secure admission into a very elite program that only admitted the top 50 applicants.   I could not believe my eyes or ears and I worked hard, so hard to make sure I could do it.  My grades were all very good at least until my sophomore year.  But then the longer I stayed in the program and as the coursework grew tougher , I found myself sitting in the library poring over literature books when I was meant to be digesting human physiology and clinical anatomy.

I knew there was a problem, but I refused to acknowledge it. I got myself some audio books and joined study groups, but even those failed to make any marked improvement in my exam scores.

At first I found comfort in the company of my upperclassmen who had also failed the same courses. There were scores of them, and we had hoped that somehow, someday, in some inexplicable way, we’d get through it. There were occasional victories; but most would give up the dream of completing the program.

I, however, felt trapped. I knew I had choices, but I refused to look them in the eye because doing so meant facing the reality that I never was going to be a doctor and admitting to myself that I have failed. (Failure was never really an option, and even until now, I still struggle with admitting defeat at times.)

Truth be told, the decision was never really made by me to leave. That fateful day is still a haze until now. I remember going to school to sit for exams; my next memory was several weeks after that as I was being being driven to see a shrink who diagnosed me with PTSD. After all that work, I had nothing to show but a leave of absence that eventually led to me giving up my dream.

Over the past few years, I’ve had two of my cousins travail the exact same path yet finding more success than I ever did. One has just earned herself a license to practise Physical Therapy in the US. The other is currently doing internship at a hospital and has her eyes set on continuing to medicine. Even these days when I walk on the sidewalk and I am walking in one direction and I see  medical students walking by in the opposite direction passing me by in their white coats, I stop and I turn around and I look at them walking away. I see my dream that I had walking away from me.  I am so happy for them and I am so sad for myself that I did not find a way to make my dream. Up until last year, I couldn’t bring myself to look at the Facebook posts of old friends and classmates from another life who were one of the few who made it through that horrifying ordeal I went through in pre-med. It was like being reminded of the life I never had, the dream that slipped from my reach when life decided to slap me in the face by showing me that I wasn’t as intelligent as I thought I was.

As I went through the readings in module 5, I started asking myself whether my dropping out of the program could be regarded as adaptation or integration.

Imagine this. You’re sitting on a plane after a two-month holiday. You’re one of these savvy travelers so you find yourself sitting in this aisle seat and getting in there because you’re part of that Group 1/Group A (the first people to board the plane) that everybody wants to be in. So you find your seat and get settled and say, “There’s a couple of extra seats next to me. I am hoping that the person that sits next to me/or the couple that sits next to me are at least interesting, or hopefully they’re just asleep the entire time.” And in that case you can just sleep because you just had the most amazing time being on holiday, and all you want to do is savour the moment and get that nice long rest flying along the Pacific.

But then you lock eyes on that young couple with the baby. You tell yourself, “I hope that’s not…I hope not…Nope…No, it can’t be…They’re not coming right next to me.” But that gut feeling inside of you just says, “You’ve struck your luck today.” You try to deny it and loom away.

And then you get that magical tap on your shoulder. “Excuse me. We’re in there.”

And to yourself, you say, “Man! Really? Alright! I got it. I’m good.”

We empathise with this family because maybe they themselves had a great holiday or maybe not. You never know. You never try to assume anything.

But you do hope that at least one thing occurs this entire time… you hope that that baby does not start wailing at any moment. But then as nature intends it, and as the universe is always on your side…guess what? The baby is crying the entire time right from the take-off.

So you tell yourself, “I can handle it. I am going to centre myself.” My cup is either empty or full, however which way you want to call it. You sit down and out your earphones on.

But everyone around you doesn’t feel the same way. They’re moving. They’re looking out back and forth saying, “Oh man! That guy/ gal is so unlucky. He/she is really going to get it all tonight.”

This is how I understand adaptation. It is making terms with your environment and surroundings and finding ways to work with that reality. Looking back, my bullheadedness back then in staying in the pre-med program despite the continuous let-downs was an adaptation to my circumstances. Depending on the way you look at it, you can either see it as a good thing or a bad thing. It was a good thing because I showed (or at least tried to show) that I was not a quitter. I had perseverance. I did try to help myself. I just managed to hit that jackpot because all those attempts failed.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve fully integrated with that reality. From the outside, it would certainly seem that way. From dropping out of pre-med, I took a sabbatical for two terms before transferring to UP Diliman under the Creative Writing program. I had to leave because I had hit the MRR (maximum residency rule). My application for extension had been denied twice. I was only starting to build my life back and regain the confidence I had lost when the rug had to be pulled from under my feet yet again. I vowed never to enroll again. It was UP or nothing. That was supposed to be my chance for vindication, but I was denied that. I have long since found my calling and my place in life.Fate decided to throw me some crumbs as the first company I had joined was generous enough to invest in workplace learning, training and certifications which has allowed me to make a small name for myself in my small niche. I have an established career and a stable job. But I’ve always felt like a phony because that diploma has evaded me like an indifferent coffee cup. This journey of mine at UPOU, I am hoping, is my shot at changing that reality, a shot at self-forgiveness.

I think it’s slowly coming full circle as I slowly come to terms with several realizations. I am not entirely letting myself off the hook. I had my lapses when I was taking pre-med. Maybe if I had paid attention…if only I had not been daydreaming as I read Byron, Nabokov and Plath in the library and instead went to the morgue to study the cadaver. There were a thousand what if’s. But in these past few terms as I read about learning theories and teaching methods, I realised that since I had only been really exposed to the banking model of teaching where the teacher issues communiques (instead of communicating) and I was expected to passively receive memorize and repeat. I must adjust to it or fail. This led me to adapt to a fragmented view of reality that I was not intelligent and that I was a failure.

Freire’s Education for Critical Consciousness had opened my eyes to the repressive nature of holding on to those thoughts and allowing one’s self to be defined by traditional views of intelligence.

Much has been said about the millennials and how they are the strawberry generation with a sense of self-entitlement. But it is what it it, and that is the reality of it. As educators , we can either whine our way until the cow comes home or use the elements of this generation to further the educational system and create an innovative pedagogy that will help students gain  relevant skill for optimum functioning in the 21st century.

References:

Freire, P. (1973). Society in transition. In P. Freire’s Education for critical consciousness, pp. 3-20. NY: The Seabury Press.

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning to think like an adult: Core concepts of transformation theory. In J. Mezirow et. al. Learning as Transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress, Chapter 1, pp. 3-33. CA: Jossey-Bass. Available at http://abl-uni-goettingen.de/Material/Mezirow2000.Learning_to_Think_like_an_Adult.pdf

 

 

 

 

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