If you missed part one, click here. It was too long for one post!
Thank you for all positive feedback and taking the time to read part one. I am truly grateful to be able to share my experience.
The period between high school and starting something new in the face of uncertainty and failure can be one of the loneliest moments in a young persons life.
Many of the people that I knew from school and through various other networks had been accepted into their degree of choice, TAFE courses or had a plan.
I was lost with no idea about what I was supposed to do next. Bad habits in tow, I had a failed attempt at a Bachelor of Arts for a month and spent five of the longest months of my life on the New Start allowance, looking for work.
During this time my despair deepened and as a result my cannabis use intensified. The growing unrest at home was unsettling and this period would be one of the darkest of my life.
Reflecting on this many years later as a doctor, it is clear to see why suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-24years as it is a particularly vulnerable time filled with pressure, angst and uncertainty.
I often wonder how I navigated through this period but only for the grace of God and prayers of my parents did I emerge.
My advice for individuals and parents reading this is to keep the lines of communication open. Keep checking in, keep talking, keep including and most importantly love unconditionally. If you are experiencing negative & suicidal thoughts, stay safe and tell someone.
Putting the pieces together
Later that year I found a full-time job and it was the responsibility and distraction I needed to move forward and out of the valley that I was in. It was around this time that I started to think about the next step.
I thought that if I combined my what I was passionate about with my natural abilities, I would find the sweet spot where I would excel and be able to make an impact. There was no question that I was passionate about science and in particular, human biology and was especially passionate about helping people in a deep and meaningful way. Combining this with my ability to stay calm in a crisis and communicate well, led me to think about the health sciences as a potential career direction.
My love of science started with my mother, who is a science and maths teacher. She couldn’t help but teach me about wonder and function of the body and even as a young boy, I knew that being a doctor would give me the ultimate understanding of the body and how to treat disease.
The trouble was that I didn’t think I was smart enough to achieve this and it truly felt out of my reach based on my circumstances.
In year 10 when we were contemplating our future (how crazy is this?) and choosing subjects for upper school, I remembered telling a classmate that I was thinking of about becoming a doctor.
He laughed so hard at this ridiculous thought that twenty years later even with a Dr. in front of my name, I still remember that shame. Year 12 didn’t help either as the combination of my lack of effort mixed with my teacher’s frustrations and attitudes towards me, reinforced the notion that I wasn’t good enough to even think about becoming a doctor.
But when the time came in 1998 to apply for university entrance in 1999, I decided I would aim towards the health sciences and managed to gain entry into a Bachelor of Science in Human Biology.
The girl I was supposed to meet
My intention of becoming a doctor was solidified when I met a girl who I wanted to impress. She was beautiful and accomplished and until that moment I was going after girls that I WANTED to meet but realised that I had just met the woman that I was SUPPOSED to meet! Sixteen years later, she has profoundly affected the course of my life and been my wise counsel and best friend.
Until now the thought of becoming a doctor had been a far-flung idea in my head. But when I told her that if I wasn’t afraid of failing, I would go all out to become a doctor, she said “go for it!” and I did.
This was game changing, as I had never mentioned this to anyone, fearing ridicule but when I told my parents, they were supportive but more excited about the positive influence this new girl was having in my life!
The Bachelor of Science and the GAMSAT
It is compelling how a clear vision, passion for your work and changing your habits will do to improve your life. Doors will start to open, your grades will start to soar and suddenly you will become the one to watch because these things are the most powerful factors in achieving those big fat hairy and audacious goals.
“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have” Thomas Jefferson
Needless to say my three years at Curtin University were powerful building blocks in my self-esteem, developing resilience and confirming my desire to become a doctor.
Check out this link and the company I keep (not really):
My newfound discipline and confidence allowed me to give up the summer holidays and study for the GAMSAT (Graduate Australian Medical School Admission Test) and having sat this once, I was determined never to sit it again!
On the day of the exam I had a panic attack just after the science section begun in the afternoon. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the importance of the moment and number of people who now knew about my dream. But as I calmed myself down in the toilet, my ability to refocus my thoughts and redirect my energy would prove invaluable, as I was about to face far more stressful moments in my medical career.
That May, I received my GAMSAT results and I had passed all the sections and that I received a score that placed me in the top 20th centile which was pleasing as my sacrifice had yielded a positive result.
After an anxious wait I was happy to be invited to an interview at the University of Sydney in September 2001.
I spent the night before my interview with extreme stomach cramps and toilet issues most likely due to the dodgy pizza we ate in Newtown (the dog walking around the restaurant should have given us a clue). With little sleep and smelling of cigarette smoke I walked into the interview, anxious as anything to complete my application to medical school but deep inside me there was a strange confidence that I was going to do this well.
See a few months before the interview, my mum had been in a serious car accident whilst driving home from school. I remember the moment we saw the resuscitation team draw the curtain and prepare to intubate her as the pneumothorax and fractured ribs she sustained, were impeding her ability to breathe. I’d never seen my dad look so worried before and we all held our breath and each other as she was taken to ICU where she remained in an induced coma for 2 days.
My mum made a full recovery and bears no residual injury from this crash (complete miracle) but this experience was a personal example of medicine at work, something that I’d never seen before.
Even in my distress I was struck by how calm the doctors were as they prepared for the worst and how expertly the nurses in ICU cared for my mum. This was medicine in action and my desire to serve God as a doctor was deepened and there wasn’t anything else that I would accept!
The acceptance letter
The moment I opened the acceptance letter from the University of Sydney Medical School is one of the most treasured in my life. It was the culmination of hard work in the face of previous failure and a childhood dream but I also had Kylie screaming into the phone and jumping up and down with her friends as I read the words “we would like to offer you a place in the Bachelor of Medicine for 2002”.
Medical school till present day
Every single moment despair and anguish following my year 12 experience was required to shape me.
It was painful and there are experiences especially arguments with my parents that I would like to take back. But nothing was wasted and nothing was lost because these moments were used to change my heart and mind into the man that I am today.
It was all preparation for the long haul of study and work that I have undertaken over the last 14 years.
As I entered medical school, there was a maturity that wasn’t present 5 years earlier and as I see patients now who are going through tough times or have an addiction, my empathy is deep and forged through personal experience.
The main point
Your experiences in the past and today all count for something in the story that you are writing of your life.
The most successful and admired people that I have met on my journey have not always been shining stars through high school but they’ve found their passion and pursued this with all their heart long after high school had finished.
Are you writing a story that is worth telling?
If you’d like to talk more about any of this please feel free to email me jramache at med.usyd.edu.au or leave a comment below
Dedicated to my beautiful wife Kylie and to my parents Josephine and Rama for their sacrifice and unconditional love.