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.
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.
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 can’t 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 aren’t 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. It’s a long way to the top and between there and where you are, is oblivion.