IT HAS almost been a decade since I had left school, but the yearly predicament of top-scoring students failing to get seats at public varsities for “choice” courses like medicine and dentistry and those with lower grades getting in easily for the same courses, seem to be a never-ending tale.
It is a little disconcerting when top-scoring students think it is beneath them to pursue a programme in biology or chemistry as they’ve already set their sights on the “choice” courses.
If so, do we really want them to be our doctors and dentists?
I don’t think it speaks very well of students if they are completely rigid to the point of being impractical or restrictive.
For example, have these students ever considered other fields or paths in achieving what they want?
They could for instance apply to the private sector for funding. Looking out for scholarships or fellowships, could be another option.
If indeed one’s childhood dream of becoming a doctor is dashed all because he or she hasn’t been able to secure a place in a varsity, so be it. There are still other ways of chasing one’s dreams.
Let me point out that the romanticised idea of what one thinks of a particular career, in this case the medical profession, may not be the same in reality.
Perhaps it is a good idea to consider other options.
Students should also be clear that they are pursuing medicine because of their passion for the profession and to be of service to those in need of medical attention, and not because of parental pressure and personal glory.
I think that those who want to enter service professions must take some time to render their time and service to others.
It does open up worlds you never knew existed, and it helps you learn more about what you like and dislike. Also, it brings opportunities for you to learn more about your strengths and weaknesses.
I started volunteering when I was a 17-year-old in hospitals and organisations in Malaysia, India and Canada.
Through the years, I have learnt quite a lot about myself. I am no doctor, dentist, lawyer or engineer and I am not earning big money.
However, I do know that if I apply to do medicine sometime in the future, I will be doing it for the right reason and not because of my grades alone.
As a volunteer, I have held and cradled dying babies, sat with family members as their loved ones underwent chemotherapy, have bathed patients who can’t move a limb and fed the elderly who can’t lift a spoon.
And while doing all this, I have observed healthcare professionals with whom I have shared my thoughts and experiences.
They make a tremendous difference to the lives of their patients.
They may not be top scorers but they will not hesitate to give patients their time, a smile, say a kind word and listen to them. They are simply passionate about what they do.
Medical schools in North America now subject their students to more than just the grades for admission.
For example, the University of British Columbia in Canada states that “In an effort to select well-rounded, mature, empathetic and caring individuals who will be best suited for success in medicine, the non-academic section of the application is given significant weight in our evaluation.”
The non-academic section evaluates many factors and they include the applicant’s volunteer work, awards, published research work, travel, leadership activities, the arts, employment history and activism.
Apart from gauging one’s academic performance, which does not necessarily have to be a grade point average of 4.0, the evaluation also takes into account the interview with the applicant and reference letters.
This is a move in the right direction. In short, its emphasis is not about academic achievements alone, but how one needs to be alert and compassionate in dealing with people and situations.
I recommend the book If I Get to Five by the late Dr Fred Epstein, a renowned paediatric neurosurgeon in the United States who was told he would not get into medical school as he had learning disabilities.
He later made it and founded the division of paediatric neurosurgery at New York University Medical Centre.
Daphne Ling Vancouver, Canada The Star Online Home News Education 01/09/2013