The Quest for the “M.D.”

A month has passed since the results of the March 2016 Physician Licensure Examinations (Hereafter, PLE) were released by the Professional Regulation Commission (Hereafter, PRC), and to see my name among those who passed felt like a dream… a dream that became a reality.

I am, and always will be, happy of this achievement, but of course, a month in where this extra 2 letters at the end of my name is now official, the high has since dissipated; the reality sets in that now I have to find a job; and the pressure that passing the exam on my first try is not a fluke and I deserve to be a doctor is now looming over me.

Having said that, we just recently had our Oath Taking and got our professional ID’s that I think it is a good idea to walk down memory lane and see how we got here. So, join me, as we look back!. Now, I will not cover my WHOLE life’s story… that would frankly be boring, instead, let us talk about the past 4-5 months when I was reviewing in this board preparation center aptly named Topnotch.

So, sit back, relax, grab some popcorn, because this will be a story unlike any other I have ever told…

It was around August 2015, where my classmates are within days of their own PLE; I had to opt out of the August 2015 exams with them since I had an operation in the middle of our internship together to alleviate an injury on my right knee. This forced me to stay an extra 2 months in internship as my classmates toiled away at their notes in Topnotch building up to the August 2015 PLE.

Was I envious? Who wouldn’t be? I wanted to review, take, and eventually conquer, the exams with the same people I survived the first 5 years (including internship) of Medicine with. The same people I see day in and day out. The same people who know it’s me if they hear someone blurt out profanity in the back of the room. The same people that recognize the tone of my voice, in turn, I too, know the tone of their voice, and can immediately finish eachother’s sentences. Those were the people I wanted to share this whole ordeal with.

But alas, in tune with Murphy’s Law, I had to be delayed around 2 months in internship, in doing so I wouldn’t be anywhere near ready to take the exams. I might even spoil our university’s (Angeles University Foundation) record of having 100% passing rate nearly every year for the first time takers of the PLE.

So I waited. And had to endure the fact that my classmates, during the August 2015 PLE, all passed, leaving me to wait for March 2016 to bask in the same glory as they did. Of course, along the way, I had my doubts as to whether I can really pass the exam myself, as you will read later on as we go on with the post.

I mean, come on, I am not a jerk that I was not happy my classmates passed and I didn’t even take the exam; I was sincerely happy, but I wished I were there. Heck, I nearly shed a man tear when I saw one of my best friends making rounds in the hospital as a resident. It was a sight to see and I was just imagining my turn.

As soon as their PLE was over with and the good news was announced, I was refreshing the main website and Facebook page of Topnotch Medical Board Prep, waiting (im)patiently to register for their program. And when the Google Form was up on the date and time they promised it would be, I immediately registered and felt my first milestone passed on my journey to those 2 letters at the end of my name, M.D..

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And so it begins…

I was reading some of my review books that I bought up to this point in order to refresh my mind with all these medical subjects that I have certainly forgotten over time and make it easier for me to follow the flow of the review lectures in Topnotch. It did pay off while I was there, but as you will read later on, it did burn me out eventually reading for nearly a year.

Upon receiving a confirmation as to what section I am going to be in, which was Section Harvard in Fairview, Quezon City, my first choice, that is when we decided to look for a place for me to stay. It is of note, that we already decided on finding a place in Sunny Villas, the same place where my sister stayed while she was also reviewing for her board exams some 7 years ago. Also of note, just like when my sister was reviewing, my mom will be staying with me; not only for morale support but for physical support as my right knee that was operated on would have a relapse of pain every now and then rendering unable to really walk.

Upon finding a place in Fairview in a day, it was time to play the waiting game.

At this time, the exams were still thought to be on February 2016, but upon receiving word from PRC that the exams have been moved to March 2016, so to was the start of the review sessions in Topnotch, giving me 2 more weeks of “supposed” freedom; that freedom of course, was spent valiantly reading, but would be enticed to play games with my friends. Two weeks well spent.

Then the day of the move arrived. I decided to move in just a day before the registration and orientation, but thankfully I was able to get used to the place quickly enough.

As you can see, the place wasn’t really all that pretty, but it was the only one on ground level for my leg to be able to tolerate it. It isn’t really a place I would usually like to live in, but hey, I gotta make due since I needed a place close enough the review center to… well… review.

I was already making due with the place, tolerating its shortcomings, then suddenly, after a few days of the review, me and my mom were told that we were staying in that place illegally. It came to a shock to my mom, as I was attending the review session when all that broke down, only hearing about it the night after my review session. It turns out, the person that we were renting the place out of, wasn’t the owner nor was she allowed to make such transactions. The owner came by and told my mom to move out or she will sue. Sue for what!? We were actually more of the victims here! Anyways, needless to say, me and my mom decided to find another place also in Sunny Villas, and thankfully found one. Sadly, we didn’t even get back our initial deposit from that fraud in the initial place we rented out.Talk about fucked up. But I didn’t expect any less from people like that.

It was actually a Godsend that that happened to us. We found a way better place. It is a small place, but it was just right, and this time, we transacted with the owner of the place and he was a doctor and said he has good luck with that place when he himself was review in for both his premed and med board exams, as well as anyone that rented that place out from him had great luck in the med board exams. We are pretty superstitious so we jumped at the opportunity to get it. And in the end, it became home.

As time went by, notes started to stack up, things are starting to get overwhelming, but thankfully, since we were given an extra month for the exam, the review sessions were spread far enough apart to also give us self study periods at our own place.

That is what I appreciate about Topnotch; sure the board exams for us is the most important hurdle for us to go over in our live’s at that stage, but they also made sure we don’t lose our minds, reading day in and day out; they have mentorship, wherein a mentor will guide a student not only academically but emotionally – I for one didn’t have mentor, since I had my mom with me, but it was nice to see others availing of such; we have afternoon snacks, which may seem like nothing, but after listening to a lot of concepts in medicine, having snacks and sharing them with your co-reviewees gives a sense of camaraderie like no other; and the fact that you really don’t feel alone, that they really show their support of their students, that in fact, you are not alone in this endeavor, makes me confident as the days of the exam come closer and closer.

Of course, I shouldn’t completely rely on the review program, I had to do my part. I reverted back to my old ways of studying like in the medical proper days; staying up late, sometimes skipping meals, etc. It took awhile to get used to it, but I then had study flow that I get to do day in and day out.

Still though, all that combined is certainly not enough. There is one more up my sleeve, that is praying. I am a Catholic and even though I don’t show that I am practicing my religion a lot, I am quite religious and I owe everything I have and everything I achieved with my faith.

Like every challenge in my life, along with my hard work, I prayed; I believe that I can’t accomplish things if I just work hard and prayed. Same time, I also believe I can’t accomplish anything if I just prayed, I need to do my part.

Each time I am absorbed in my studies, like previously mentioned, I would have little to no sleep and I’d skip meals. I become very picky as to what to eat, and I am already picky as it already stands. Even if we had an electric stove and my mom is a good cook (you can ask my friends), yet, I couldn’t even find any food palatable. It was always fast food for nearly 5 months; lots of jugs of Nutella; lots of Frito-Lay chips; and lots and lots of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. No wonder my knee is hurting again as I gained weight.

Now I have never been the model student ever since I was younger, and it still showed while I was in Topnotch. Don’t get me wrong, I am not the bad influence type of person, but what I meant was that I didn’t go to all my classes, didn’t take all the mock exams they gave, and I even went home during the Yuletide holidays when it would have been better if I isolated myself from them and studied.

At first I was worried about skipping some classes and not taking all the mock exams, but the notes in Topnotch are very informative that one, granted that one has at least a basic idea of the subject matter, will easily pick up and learn.

And it also helped left my spirits seeing my family during the holidays, because I didn’t opt for the mentoring program in Topnotch so I had to seek emotional support from my real family – it was great, even just for a day (thought a day of not reading was still considered a sin) not to think of the stress of the board exams. Heck I was happy that I got to do my yearly tradition of taking shots of the fireworks display!

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A break from review! Welcoming 2016!
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A break from review! Welcoming 2016!

After the holidays, we had about 2 weeks left of regular review in Topnotch until we have our month long self review followed by a week of “pearls” which serves as a final preparation in Topnotch before we head for the exams.

The most difficult part of the month long self review is keeping the motivation; heck not just the month long review, but for the whole ordeal. Motivation was difficult to keep up. Then you start to notice your confidence also dipping to the point of running away from the exam. That nearly happened to me. I was seriously exhausted and totally burnt out since I was reading for so long now, I have been deprived of sleep or fun outside the review. I was going nuts. But I had to press on.

After all that was said and done, only a few days from March 6-7, 13-14, 2016, I was thinking of quitting and taking the boards next time. Even with all my preparation, my prayers, I still had my confidence dipping. It was natural. It was expected. But thankfully, I had my family and friends pushing to take it anyway. And I did.

Having to see my white blazer and white pants again, made me somewhat excited to tackle the exams, not knowing if I will really do good. Not knowing if my inexperience in taking these kind of exams (since it was my first time taking any board exam; B.S. Biology doesn’t have a board exam) will cause me to freeze up. But I felt a little more at ease when I saw my name on that blazer – I was but a few days away from adding those M.D. at the end of my name officially.

Then the day I have both been dreading and was so excited for was upon me; woke up at 5am just to make sure I arrive at my designated testing area before 6.30am on the first day of the exams to hear the instructions, because hey, like I said, this was my first time taking any kind of board exam. Had a quick bite to eat, loaded my system up with Coke (it has enough caffeine; I didn’t drink any real coffee these days since I was having lots of abdominal pain and loose bowel movement the moment I take sip of coffee… talk about stressed), and paced around the space outside the room, saying hi, but no small talk, to the people I knew from the same review center as me. And I prayed.

Next thing I knew, the first 3 exams are done with and I am back in room taking a nap before reading for the next day’s 3 exams. The first 3 exams felt great, so I was starting to feel pretty good. Thankfully, so too, were the next 3 exams. Closing out the first 2 days of the exams with a good feeling, I was looking forward to the next week and the remaining 6 exams that would also be split into 2 days.

The dreaded “week in between” where you strive to find the inspiration to read for the remaining exams, yet wanting to sleep so bad because the week before was tiring in itself already. It was tough, sometimes even depressing, but the funny thing about medicine, is that when a student says he or she will quit, or can’t take it anymore, we find it in ourselves to push on – against any odds.

March 13 finally came, the second to the last day of examinations; woke up early yet again, but somehow, a gut feeling was in me telling me that this day may be tough. And boy it was surely tough!

First exam of the second week, which is technically the seventh exam overall, Pharmacology, nearly took my life. It was tough. It was crazy. But I prayed. I pressed on. The fear was now there. What I felt so great about the first week is now greeted with doubts beyond imagination. I cried. Because this meant something to me; I WANT TO BE A DOCTOR. For the first time in my life… I doubted my abilities. I was thinking of my alibis if I failed. All this was going through my head and there were still 2 more exams later that day and 3 more the next day.

The last 2 exams of the day felt so and so, thus for a moment, I had forgotten what Pharmacology did to me. But later that night, it was gnawing at me mercilessly. I had to find the strength to go on for the last 3 exams. I prayed… but, deep inside me, I was already losing hope.

The last day and the last 3 exams were fair. I didn’t feel as bad as the Pharmacology exam, but how the board exams are graded, the way to pass is to have an average of 75% with no grade in any subject of less than 50%. I felt I was below 50% in Pharmacology. So, no matter how good I did in the other exams, that one exam can end it all.

After the last exam, a bit of jubilation, more of fear and doubt, set in. But upon seeing my mom waiting for me to take me home here at Angeles City, Pampanga, with a few Steam Wallet cards at hand, I somehow forgotten about the exams, and just said to myself, after signing the cross “I have done all that I can humanly do in the exam, it is all up to You, God.”.

The projected release of the results were on March 18; four days after the exam. The first night I was able to game a lot and thus, that night went by very fast. First day post exam was a little more tricky, I tried to play games, but wasn’t in the mood. I just cleaned my room and that seemed to work well. On the second day post exam, I went out with a friend I haven’t seen in a year or so since she is now living in China; I must say, I was happy to be with her because she made me forget about the exam for a bit and when she notices me being nervous or tensed up about it, she cracks a joke or just talks about random things to get my mind off of it.

Sadly, as much fun as I had with her, we had to go back to our respective homes. Upon arriving home, I was in desperate need to get my mind off the exam, so I decided to manage some wires in my PC.

As I was tinkering away in my PC, I got a call from my sister. When I answered she called me “doc”, which is not too surprising… Since I became an Intern 2 years ago, she calls me doc, because I also call her doc in the hospital (Yes, my sister is a doctor, too). So, I thought this was a regular call until she said the magical words “Congratulations! You passed!”. I was like no way, and then I went to the PRC website and saw them release the results; I hit Ctrl+F and typed my name, and there it was!

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This was taken from my sister’s Facebook page; I appreciate that she made this. By the way, I am not 450 overall… this is alphabetical!

However, I was still not sure if what I saw was real. The first person I told this to was my mother, of course, and I had her read my name to make sure. She said, yes that is your name. Yet, I was still not believing any of this. Until finally, my close friend, a classmate from my B.S. Biology days, who happens to be taking up medicine as well and will take the board exam herself this September 2016, greeted me through Facebook private messaging. That is when I knew, it was all true.

Had a multitude of greetings from old friends, my classmates, professors, and relatives. I was at cloud nine. And I thank God for all of this. I felt real happy and I knew I should enjoy the high and the subsequent VACATION (I capitalized that word because boy oh boy do I need and want one), because in time, when the high is gone and I am tired of vacation and staying stagnant, reality will strike and I should look for a job and start my residency training – and once residency starts, well, I won’t have a break or vacation for a number of years.

After the results were released, I was looking for jobs, but not really planning to give my application anytime soon, as the games on my Steam library are tempting me, plus like I said, I want a vacation. I was just looking for future references. With that said, I didn’t turn down all job opportunities; meager tasks like doing the physical examinations for blood donors I do just to earn a little extra spending money, and not yet committing to a full time job just yet. It helps pass the time when you don’t want to game the whole day and waiting for the day you need to register in PRC, and ultimately, attend the Oath Taking.

Which leads us to today…

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This is it!

Just finished attending the Oath Taking for the New Physicians, saw my review mates from Topnotch, saw my classmate, and saw my fellow interns from AUFMC; had a great time, this time no more small talk, since there was nothing to worry about, I got to talk a lot, and apparently, they talked a lot as well. I guess we were all the same when we reviewing and taking the exam – we were tensed and just couldn’t find it in ourselves to talk to each other when we could just review. Now, it was no holds barred. It was great.

After reciting the PRC Oath and, what I have been waiting for since I was a young boy, the Hippocratic Oath, it was time to get our professional ID and certificate of registration…

When all was said and done, took enough pictures to make my mom and sister (who attended; my dad never attends these… he is… agoraphobic.), saying bye to my friends and assuring them we will all meet again, it was time to go home.

Now that this is over, I can really plan out my vacation before I seriously job hunt.

The experience I had during the review sessions and then the exam I will never forget. Much like clerkship and internship, I look back on this and smile. But also like clerkship and internship, I would never want to go through this again. It is a humbling experience, and I feel humbled enough to never have to go through it again. Sure, I will have my future diplomate exams, but I feel that I will be more mature and more in tune with my chosen specialty to tackle the diplomate exams with confidence (I hope… but most likely, I will be human, and be scared again). I have always practiced my faith in my own way, and during the exams, I prayed more than I can ever remember. And again, I did work hard for all this, I had great support by family and friends, but I wouldn’t have made it without my faith. Thank you God.

All the people that I’ve met, both co reviewees and the people around Fairview where I reviewed, I appreciate their support even when I was basically a stranger to them. My friends, mentors, all throughout my life even those I haven’t seen over many years, gave their well wishes and prayers during this exam. My family who never doubted me. And God. I thank them all. I love them all. To the point when even moving out of my home for 6 months in Fairview made me well up a bit.

Vacation mode ON. And then onwards to the next chapter of my life!

‘Til next time!! PEACE!!

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What all those years of blood, sweat and tears are all about. Now, onwards to the next chapter of my life! Residency training! After vacation, of course!

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