Fall from grace
The "revalida" is the final examination required of candidates for the degree of Doctor of Medicine at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). It is composed of two exercises. The first covers basic medical sciences and, if one passes it, the student qualifies for the second exercise. This one requires the student to examine a patient chosen by lot, diagnose him and present investigative and therapeutic plans, and discuss in full a medical or surgical emergency, again chosen by lot.
I did not pass the "revalida." I had the bad luck of getting a complicated case that I was not prepared to handle. Besides I was picked first to make a presentation and I had very little time to organize my thoughts. The result was dismal.
When the members of my tribunal told me their decision, I thought they were joking at first. When I realized how serious they were, I told them I had never failed a subject or taken remedial courses, that I was class president, hardworking, bright, honest and selfless. That I had organized the graduation ceremony, the class party and the retreat. That it was my birthday the next day.
They told me many good doctors they personally knew had also failed their first "revalida," and the experience made them work harder. Now they are brilliant doctors. They felt that I would turn out the same way.
While they were talking, my heart was breaking. But maybe, so was theirs. They said that in "good conscience," they knew it was what was best for me. I could not help thinking that if it were another tribunal, if my case had been simpler, I would have been graduating. But it is useless to think about that now.
I felt that in an instant, my life had changed. Was it all in vain? All the hard work and sacrifice I had made since I had this dream of becoming a doctor at the age of three, were they all in vain? My life, was it in vain?
With a heavy heart, I told everyone I met on my way out that I had failed. I was very sure the news spread like wildfire. I was part of the UST Medicine Revalida history.
I called my parents and broke their hearts.
In the dean's office, my professors, whom I worked with, reassured me that this was just a temporary setback and that people would not judge me on the basis of just one exam.
I went back to our apartment and broke down. I wept and hugged my sister, and I mourned for what might have been.
After composing myself, I sent a text message to my friends, med and non-med alike that said: "I'm deeply sorry to say that I did not pass the "revalida." I'm extending clerkship for three months and do a retake. I'm OK. I know in my heart I'll still be a good doctor. Please don't hesitate to talk to me."
Almost immediately, people called and visited me. Those who came were in tears. I tried my best to be strong and comfort them, but ended up in tears myself. In that place of pain and sorrow, I recalled the prayer I grew up with, the prayer of St. Francis: "… Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy…"
I was comforted by the things my friends told me. They told me they knew me as a dedicated student leader, a friend to all, and this failure wouldn't change the way they looked at me. They said they would continue to believe that I would not let this obstacle stop me from fulfilling the dream I have devoted my life to achieving. Even my professors expressed their concern and sympathy.
It was painful to think that instead of inspiring others, I was causing distress.
If there is one thing beautiful that resulted from my disgrace, it is that I have come to realize that my family is bigger than what I thought it to be, that people are loyal and do not forget. For the past four years, I have established strong friendships and gained the respect of my classmates. They know me for my impeccable work ethic and strength of character. This fall from grace will not break what I have built for the past 24 years. Realizing what I have built, in the face of this trial, is enough reason to celebrate my birthday.
After pacing restlessly around the apartment, my sister and I went to the mall and hit the book stores. The answers to my questions seemed nowhere to be found, but I felt that reading would help. I bought an inspirational book, an art and culture book, and some magazines. I even saw "How to Change Careers" books, and I did not know whether to laugh or cry.
When we went home, I poured out my pain and anguish to my parents. Mom said she believed God has a beautiful plan for me. Dad held me as if I were a little girl again. I knew that if anyone was hurting more than me it was my parents. And because of their pain, an immeasurable sorrow swept over me. But because of their love, I knew I was not lost.
That evening, my mom's colleagues, doctors themselves, called me. They quoted inspiring Bible verses. They recalled great physicians who stumbled academically and more than just recovered: they actually became highly respected physicians.
Amidst the adversity, but whole and headstrong and with my heart and mind in the right place, I will enter my 24th year of life with newfound wisdom. It is a new life. Just when I thought I was almost there, I have begun a new journey, a journey that will not just make me a doctor, but a complete healer.
I do not know yet what the reasons are, but I'm in a phase of acceptance. I know that He will "rescue me from the fowler's snare," and I know that life can only get better from here. I also know that although this may look like a really big problem, there are greater trials ahead.
I know that the next time I walk down the halls of the hospital, there will be sympathetic looks and whispers, in front and behind my back. I will not mind them. If some people show me sympathy I will appreciate it. I may have lost a battle but I will win this war.
I am not angry at anyone, not even with myself. I am humbled by this experience, but I am not, and never will be, insecure. I still believe in what I'm capable of becoming and I will use this experience to master the art and science of medicine, to grow as a person, and to reach out to others in the future who, like me, may fall.
I will be back. And I will be the best.
Venus Oliva M. Cloma, 24, is a medical clerk (4th year medical student) at the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Medicine and Surgery.
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