This clarion call is most often associated with battles of war. The captain of the guard urges his men and women forward to cross enemy lines, knowing that there is a distinct possibility of loss of life and career-altering injuries. Yet, they press forward despite that knowledge and one wonders what is it that drives them on?
In this my last installment of my ‘exam series’, I wish to take a look at that driving force, or perhaps those driving forces that motivate us. What are those things that keep us turning up for class, or going to the office, or preparing to teach a group of recalcitrant humans no other individual wishes to see?
Determination. Good old-fashioned determination. The dictionary defines determination as ‘firmness of purpose, resoluteness’. When I read that definition I thought about a beam of wood which had been deeply planted into the ground and reinforced with cement. Such a beam is not likely to topple at the first sign of bad weather. I hasten to add that no amount of determination can manufacture answers from a brain into which no information has been previously deposited. Unfortunately, success in academia or vocational pursuits cannot be accomplished simply by wishing for good results.
I shared with you my milestones in my pre-clinical years including my failures, and now I close this series with my encounter with the examiners in my final examinations. To help you to understand a bit more, I will tell you that each exam consists of a written paper and a practical examination component. In order to qualify, both areas had to be passed.
I studied hard for medicine. I was afraid of the medicine examination, especially the psychiatry component, because there was just so much to be covered. Should a topic I knew nothing about appear on the paper, I would be done for. I spent part of the night prior to the exam in uncontrollable rounds of crying because I knew I was doomed. Clearly, I learned nothing from my previous experiences about thinking positively and self-fulfilling prophecies.
The morning of the exam I got ready, and as I was heading to the exam centre, I believe that I heard a voice clearly saying to me – read the difference between condition ‘A’ and condition ‘B’. I had nothing to lose and so I read that chapter. With trembling hands and a galloping heart I turned over the paper and in the psychiatry section was that exact question asking me to explain the difference between those aforementioned conditions. I choose to believe that was God’s input into my career. And so, I determined that I would give that paper my all. I practiced over the next few days for my practical medicine exam and you know how that story ended… I passed!
It was not over, however, because I still had the obstetrics and gynaecology practical to go and because of my last name, I was one of the first to enter the lions’ den. I do not know whether the examiner was upset with the world or if this was the way students were grilled to ensure that we were safe to be let out on the unsuspecting patients. Truth be told, when some of my colleagues heard the questions and comments that were flying from the examiner’s mouth like bullets from an assault rifle to my ears, they did not want to come under that fire.
All things being considered, I held up pretty well, determined not to cry or show fear in the examination. It was a different story after the exam, however, and I cried for a while between the morning and evening sessions. As a matter of fact, I had determined that I was not going back to the evening session as it made no sense. There was no way I could recover from the fatality of that morning session. My friends saw it differently and compelled me to at least try. I figured I had nothing to lose by at least trying. In retrospect, my thought process should have been to determine that the evening session was far superior to the morning session.
Early in the ‘hot seat’ again, I pressed on with my discussion with the examiner. Somewhere in the opening minutes of that exam, I remembered the many nights of studying; the sacrifices I made giving up the things I wanted to do to focus on school; the money that was invested by my parents and my country. I suddenly remembered my goal, and I made the determination that I was going to ace that exam. The moment I made that change and began to answer questions, I appreciated a flicker of surprise in the examiner’s eyes. I believe I did ace that exam, and I was proud of myself.
My last bit of advice? Do not allow anyone, be it parent, colleague, jealous friend, lecturer or most importantly yourself, tell you that you cannot reach your goal. Set your goals and set them high and do all that is within your power (encompassed by the confines of the law) to surpass them. Life is full of unexpected turns and twists, but to those who persevere there is a reward for your efforts. The converse is true for those who opt out of trying and give up when a challenge arises.
It is well known that we are the end result of our thoughts and any battle that we face is won or lost in the mind. Just as important are the words we speak. If you think or say you can, you are correct. If you think or say that you cannot, you are correct. I take this opportunity to wish each person doing exams remarkable success. Remember, your life is determined not only by the grades you get but also by (preferably) the positive difference that you choose to make in this world. Forward ever, backward never.
(Rénee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:email@example.com)