Studying Medicine in PNG – My experience

Decision making – The forks in the road of life

Towards the end of my grade 12 (1995) at Port Moresby International High School when the time came for us to choose which course we wanted to do after high school, I was undecided between engineering and medicine.  I remember asking my then girlfriend weather she’d prefer, me coming home with greasy, oil stained hands or sterile hands smelling of some medication or another. Neither one sounded particularly appealing to her.

In the end I figured, I’d take up the Science Foundation year at UPNG, Waigani, which is in fact both the pre-admission year and the first year of the Bachelor in Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) program.  I would learn more science and at the end of the year could still go either way.

UPNG – Science Foundation.

As my freshmen-year went by, I found my interest leaning towards medicine. I was intrigued by the science: human physiology, biochemistry and especially anatomy.  I pictured myself as a surgeon as did many of my student peers.  I also revelled in the competition. Only the best students would be chosen to do medicine so they all said, and I wanted to prove (to who exactly I don’t know) that I was worthy to be counted amongst them.

I wasn’t a particularly brilliant student and at times was probably a bit lazy, but on the occasions that I sat down to understand the material, I thoroughly enjoyed and was very much intrigued by what I was learning.

I continued to play Rugby Union with the awesome Harlequins Rugby Union Team and got into the usual weekend drink-ups and shenanigans as happens with all good rugby clubs. However, towards the end of the year I had to take the rugby posters off the walls and replace them with charts of the Creb’s cycle, periodic tables and the likes.

Towards the end of 1996 I had well and truly decided and was determined to get into medicine.  I saw the challenge and the discipline that was going to be required as what was going to give my life structure, a focus and a way out of a place (metaphorically) I felt I wanted to get out of.

Another reason behind my interest in science and medicine was that some of the strongest memories I had of my father, who had been murdered 6 years previously in 1990 were our many conversations about science and as I read and learned more about things of science, in a way I felt I was continuing these conversations with him.

Papa and I in deep thought, probably watching a catapillar or something..

UPNG – Medical Faculty

Early 1997, while on holidays in Manus, I was filled with excitement and anticipation when my name appeared in the list of students chosen from the 1996 Science foundation cohort to go on to study medicine.  I had a sense of purpose, ambition and energy. I was ready to take on the challenges that the next 4 years of life as a medical student was going offer me at the then Medical Faculty (Med Fac) and a life as a doctor, though at that stage I didn’t really know exactly what it was going to be like.

1997, MBBS 2 was tough year.  All day, everyday of the week, we had lectures, laboratory and cadaver dissection sessions.   The workload was heavy and it was constant. If one was to miss 2 or more days it meant a lot of catching up afterwards.

The program was old school classical type teaching, where the lecturer walks in delivers an hour lecture, entertains questions etc, then we were left to read up, revise and take it all in.  It had its advantages in that the topics, which we had to cover was delineated precisely, and we could tick each on off as we did them.  However, to me the one lecture after the other format was at times unbearable and I found myself sleeping through some of the lectures (“some” may be a slight understatement).

The whole curriculum was changed in 2000, when the more tolerable and humane problem based learning (PBL) program was introduced.  I later had the privilege to be a tutor under the PBL program and am of the opinion that the PBL is a much more superior and appropriate method for teaching medicine in PNG.

Third year started to get more interesting as we were introduced to pathology and towards the end of third year clinical medicine and could now start to apply our new found knowledge of basic medical science and pathology and public health to patient care.  We were slowly starting to feel like doctors.

Fourth year heralded for the first time in my life a real sense of purpose and responsibility. I was excited but at the same time somewhat disorientated by this feeling of being needed; of having a place and a role to play in society.  My identity was being shaped by this process of becoming a doctor.  But I resisted the tag “Dr” defining who I was, I did want to be a good doctor, but more importantly, I wanted to be a good person who was a doctor.

That year we spent most of our time at Port Moresby General Hospital (PMGH) hospital attached to one of the clinical teams generally getting a good feel of the practical aspects of being a doctor.  We basically did most of what the RMOs did: admitting patients, doing certain procedures, first with supervision then at times independently.

It was certainly a great time of exciting learning, interspersed with parties and adventures that make for a good laugh every now and again when one indulges the past.  One particular story that makes me laugh is about John (not his real name) at a social night. John had fancied an exchange student from Norway (or somewhere like that), who had been at Med Fac for a few weeks.  John was quite the gentlemen during the night’s infancy but as the night grew older; passions arose as did the blood alcohol levels, the gates of inhibition were burst open to an outpouring of passionate expressions.  John, after exhausting all the impressive dance moves he could think of, fell to the floor of the humid dinner hall come dance floor, in front of the pretty Norwegian exchange student and started doing rigorous push-ups, in his bid to impress her… what a crack up!, John had many similar adventure.

One the spontaneous Med Fac Friday night stress buster sessions

A day after our 4th year final examination I accompanied three of my friends on a 10 day bush walk along the Kokoda tract.  We decided to do this as relief from the end of year exam stress and avoid the ongoing stress of waiting for our results.  It took us 10 days from Ower’s corner to Kokoda station.  We took our time, and at several villages along the way we spent whole days just mingling with the locals and getting to know them.  It’s been said many times before about how friendly these people are and I can well and truly vouch for that. They accommodated and fed us and when we moved on they offered corn and fruits for our journey.

The late Seni Oroni (may he rest in peace) came to show us the beginning of the tract, Ower’s corner, but we twisted his arm and he ended up coming along with us, with his famous pair of green trousers.  Having him was reassuring as he, being a Koari man, knew the area and people along the tract.

During our 5th year we continued to work in the hospital doing our rotations with the major clinical fields and feeling more and more like doctors with the ability to work independently.  It wasn’t unusual for many, not only to assist but to actually do relatively complicated procedures and operations in our 4th and 5th years, things students in Australia or other developed countries would not dream of doing; like breech deliveries, caesarean sections, etc. One of the most memorable times during my Med Fac years was our rural black which I have previously written about: Rural Block Adventure 2000

I’ll end here with a note from my diary during fourth year:

You cant let the tag Doctor be you, YOU have to be you and you have to be the doctors.  I believe this applies to any profession.

People arent interested in what you know, its what you can do with that knowledge that matters.  But first one must acquire that knowledge, that tool.  You must be fair on society (patients) and yourself.  You’’ll be getting paid for your unique skills, make sure you know them well.  Its a long way to the top and between there and where you are, is oblivion.

About Dr. Poyap J Rooney

Dr. Rooney is a medical doctor who has gained both his undergraduate medical degree and more recently his post graduate masters degree in clinical biochemistry at the University of Papua New Guinea.
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34 Responses to Studying Medicine in PNG – My experience

  1. Emmanuel says:

    Thanks Poyap…was great being around you the beginning of you becoming a doctor. Really proud of you!!

  2. Ludwig says:

    Great stuff Poyap!. Brings back those good old days. Only seems like yesterday, doesnt it? Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

  3. David says:

    Thank you Poyap. Enjoyed your story. You are doing amazing work.

  4. Freddy Damaro says:

    Thanks for your story. I am doing my foundation year at Pacific Adventist University and planing to follow the path you once walked. Cheers, Freddy DAMARO Jnr

  5. Moses Kerry says:

    Thanks Dr. Poyap for sharing the experience,it helps. Its always my dream to become a doctor someday, though i was not successful during my secondary education in 2006 .I ended up at University of Goroka in 2007, studying Biology and Chemistry and did complete my degree in 2010. From 2011 to this year (2014) I was engaged as Temporary Part-Time Tutor with division of biological science at University of Goroka,assisting freshman biology foundation course, physiology and biochemistry course for third year studen. It is my great interest to study medicine in the following year, 2015. My interest is on lifestyle disease and i wanna become an endocrinologist. I have a question and that is? if I’m successful with my application, is it possible to be accepted directly into the medical faculty without doing freshman science foundation?
    Thank you.

    • Hi Moses,
      It sounds like you have the credentials to go straight into 2nd year at the school of medicine and health sciences at Taurama campus but please seek advise from the school directly. Currently Mr. Phillip Modulala is the executive officer to the dean of the School and should be able to answer your quiries..regards, Poyap

  6. Janet says:

    Thanks Dr Poyap for sharing your experiences during the journey to where you are now. I am a post-graduate student and wished to pursue Medicine and was having a mental fight to apply or not and just reading your story, I am now convinced to take it on. Thank and I wish you the best in all you do.

  7. Gillian Pilamp says:

    Thanks for the inspiration, not that I’m planning on becoming one because the year you graduated from yr 12, I graduated with a Bachelors in Science at Unitech. I have a niece doing third year at Med Fac and she tells very interesting stories about her rounds at the hospital. My daughter has just completed foundation year and has applied to do medicine as well. We are keeping our fingers crossed (not really but trusting God!!!) that she’ll get in. I also agree on a point you made, our students doctors come out with more hands on experience than doctors trained in developed countries. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Golina.David says:

    Thanks Dr Poyap for your inspiring story. Being someone who always wanted to be a doctor since my childhood days, I was really touched. As for me, I was not matured enough while I was doing my science foundation in 1998. I would say I was a so called baby sense young girl at that time who really didn’t get her priorities right. Was so involved in my social life, I never realised that years were passing me by. In 1999, when I realised I was not selected to go to Medical Faculty, I felt as if my life stopped. Even though I continued on to do my second year in mathematics, statistics and computer science school I felt so lost and never attended classes. I would continuously fail and finally in 2005, I was excluded from studies. I was to never come back to university and do any science courses. So I went looking for job. In 2008, I was employed at a government department as an casual IT Officer. I have struggled since then up until now and now I am A/IT Manager of that same department. Time has really played its part in me – from a girl who never knew what she wanted in life to a woman who wants to make her dream come true, regardless. Although my pay is good and I have travel some countries where many have dreamt of going but cant, I still have this emptiness.BUT still I found this emptiness inside me. So the beginning of this year, 2014 I applied again like I always do every year to go back and complete my final year. Finally, I was accepted to go back and complete my Bachelor of Science courses. I got a study leave and left. I have just completed all the required courses and waiting to graduate next year, 2015. I have applied to do Medicine next year and am praying that I will be selected.

    The whole idea of me sharing my story is that I was really inspired by your story. I see if you choose this line of work you must be committed, willing to sacrifice your time and most importantly love helping and putting smiles on faces where there is no or little hope at all. I have always wanted to be a doctor so I realise now that I do not have another life to live again. I must full fill my dream before I can die a happy person.

    • Best wishes Ms. David. Life is not a straight line in fact it is not a line at all but rather an infinite and ever expanding experience that grows in all directions and dimensions. Time lived as humans, for me made more tolerable when i have a vision that transcends my immediate situation, whatever that may be at a certain point in place and time. Having a vision allows one to at least to some extent buffer onself from lifes hardship. Continue to have a vision. ..and even without a medical degree you can still help others, you can still save lives. I note you have IT experience. IT is an integral part of health systems and can and should play a huge role in improving health in PNG.

  9. paul zulu says:

    dear dr its interesting and challenging to read about your experiences. I’m ignited and convinced about you, am a CHW currently working at hagen and I have a dream and desire to become a medical doctor in the future. I upgraded my grade 12 marks already, but am not really sure of the entery requirements for science foundations. please dr can you help me with this and findout for me. thank you n enjoy ur x-mas seasons.

  10. Golina says:

    Again, thank you Dr. Rooney for the encouragement.
    I have already applied to do Medicine so I will decide from there. If I am accepted, then I will have to take up the challenge but if not, then I can be at peace with myself. I will know that I have tried.

    Once again thank you and may the good LORD above continue to bless you and your family.

  11. Ambitious says:

    What an incredible read. Thank you so much for taking time to share your journey. It has a glowing light in it that I feel so inspired.

    That passion to be a doctor is very much alive in this soul. Foundation year was rough and I used to blame a broken home for shattering my dreams but I have come to a point that I now claim the full responsibility of not being able to perform to meet requirements. So I have made it my point to try once more. Found myself a scholarship and currently undergoing a Masters degree major in Infectious Disease abroad hoping it will be a gateway into medfac after the completion of this 2 year program.

    As you have had years of experience and probably affiliations to the institution, what would be your verdict on the possibility of being accepted into medfac with a Masters degree? And is there any recommendations that you can make or referrals (possibly with contact details) to other persons whom I can consult in this reagard. Your thoughts will be highly appreciated.

    Once again, thank you.

  12. Ambitious says:

    What an incredible read. Thank you so much for taking time to share your journey. It has a glowing light in it that I feel so inspired.

    That passion to be a doctor is very much alive in this soul. Foundation year was rough and I used to blame a broken home for shattering my dreams but I have come to a point that I now claim the full responsibility of not being able to perform to meet requirements. So I have made it my point to try once more. Found myself a scholarship and currently undergoing a Masters degree major in Infectious Disease abroad hoping it will be a gateway into medfac after the completion of this 2 year program.

    As you have had years of experience and probably affiliations to the institution, what would be your verdict on the possibility of being accepted into medfac with a Masters degree? And is there any recommendations that you can make or referrals (possibly with contact details) to other persons whom I can consult in this regard. Your thoughts will be highly appreciated.

    Once again, thank you.

    • So sorry about not responding earlier. I would say if you get your Masters degree in ID you will NOT have any problems whatsoever getting a place at Med Fac. Pop by to the SMHS or Port Moresby General Hospital for a chat and I can advise you in the right direction to get into medical school.

  13. Hadasha says:

    Thank you Dr. Rooney for your beautiful and encouraging story. I just finished here 12 and I’ve been accepted to do Science Foundation at UPNG it is also my dream to become a Doctor. But one thing that scares me the most is I won’t be able to finish my school due distractions for example I am a girl and I know there will be a lot of boys wanting to date me. I want to be able to have a relationship with someone but I don’t want to be lost in it. Please how would you advice me to avoid distraction during uni life and how I should manage my relationship. Is it also ok to avoid any relationship with a boy until I finish school?

    • Hi Hadasha,

      Studying medicine can be challenging and it is important to manage your time. If you manage your time well you can create time for other non academic activities including relationships. If you have a good understanding and mutual respect with your partner it can actually help with your studies. Best wishes

  14. Immanuel Lare says:

    Hi Dr. I’m very interested in going on further in doing this MBBS program to be a medical officer. Currently I’m a nursing officer with a diploma and have worked for six years now. I’m doing an upgrade with my grade 11 & 12 marks at the open campus. Will I be given a change to enter science foundation if I obtain good marks, like the grade 12 leavers?

    • Do you best get the best mark you can and try apply. If you are in Port Moresby go to the medical school and try to make an appointment to talk with the executive officer he may be able to advise

      • Immanuel Lare says:

        Thanks. But I’m in Wabag. But would do my best in the courses which now I’m upgrading…& hope similar opportunity is given to us who are doing matriculation upgrade with the non school leavers from grade 12

  15. Jordan. Alphonse says:

    Hello Dr. Poyap. It’s a remarkable honor for me to glimpse through your wonderful experince studying medicine at the Science Foundation and Medical Facaulty, University of Papua New Guinea(UPNG). I am so uplifted, aroused and encouraged by your success at UPNG.By the way, I am a Grade12 science student taking Biology and Chemistry at Wawin National High School. It is an incredible dream and a passion to be a Great Doctor. In fact, I see myself as being it already. Can you give me some tips to face this road that you have taken?

    • Be a good person first and foremost. Manage your time, get to know yourself and never stop growing and developing. Understand that not everyone will see things your way and learn to work effectively with others who may have very different view on life. Difficult people and situations are challenges of team work and organizations, see them as a challenges to work through not as restricting obstacles. Forgive yourself when you do mistakes as you would others. Be assertive but control your anger. Anger does have a place in work but it needs management and control. Best wishes!!

  16. jeniken25 says:

    Hi dr.Poyap, first of all thanks for your writing about your experience. My name is Jean, I live in Papua right next to your country. I’ve been in Medical School for 4 years now, but there are a lot of problems unsolved in my college, such as the less of facilities and the worst is that we don’t have accreditation, so to become a doctor we have to work hard for almost 8 – 10 years, sometimes because of less of the lecturers we just have long vacation without any subjects at home. I was wondering, if someone like me can take my Medical School in PNG, what should I do or prepare ?
    I badly wanted to be a doctor, for we are needed for doctors back in my hometown, which is have a very difficult conditions of place to be reached.

  17. Wow. Awesome story Dr Poyap J Rooney. Its encouraging to get an insight of what med-fac is like. I am a first year student studying Bio and Chem at Pacific Adventist University, so your story kind of helps me stay focused on what I want to do. Oh and Kokoda trek is something most young PNG students should do. I did it in four (4) days because the group I was travelling with had a time deadline. I wish I had more time to enjoy the surroundings like you did, though. Thanks.

  18. Clyra Yupele says:

    Really touching and inspiring story Dr Poyap J Rooney. I’m a first year student at UPNG doing SFY and after seeing my first semester marks on the SNPS notice board, I read your story and am very touched. Thank you for sharing your story it really means a lot. Just one question, do you know how they calculate the GPA for medfac and what the minimum cut off mark in order to enter Medfac especially MBBS? Thank you

  19. Laki says:

    Hi Bro,
    Thanks for the well documented story.
    Yes life at Med school was that tough Bro. ..
    Keep up with what you are doing.
    Best of luck! !!!!

  20. Gerard finaka says:

    From science foundation how would you be streaming into taking school of medicine and surgery;by your choice? or by the courses(subject) that you’re good at? o how?

    • No sure exactly how in terms of the administrative requirments Gerard but I can tell you this… the first and most important requirement is to have a strong desire to see a healthier PNG….. if you have a strong desire you will find a way. .. and don’t forget that you don’t necessarily need to be a medical doctor to make a difference, you can be a dentist, nurse, administrator, trades person…. etc

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