A Strange Turn of Events, A Moment of Existentialism

Scene 1

Time: Late February 2007

Place: Royal Free Hospital, Camden, London, UK

Occasion: Interview for entry into Royal Free & University College Medical School

Friend: Shen-Han, do you know what is the best way to predict whether you will be accepted into a school or not?

Me: No, I don’t. How?

Friend: Very easy, actually. Just look around you when you’re in the school. Do you feel at home there? Do you feel like you’re welcomed there? Do you get THAT feeling, just by being there?

Me: Whoa… really? Man, I don’t really feel nice in this place. And I don’t think the interviewers liked me. Must be something I said….

Friend: Whoops…..

Me: Shite.

True enough, three days later, I got a nice, succint one-page R-letter, nicely signed by the Faculty Tutor. Blergh. In hindsight, it was a good thing to happen. Instead, I got accepted by Barts & The London School of Medicine.

Scene 2

Time: February 2007

Place: Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute, Li Ka-Shing Centre, Cambridge, UK

Occasion: Lunch at the Cafeteria

Me: Whoa…….. this place rocks. Sparkling new research centre.

Friend: Shen-Han, you’re so superficial.

Me: Tell me about it…..

Friend: It’s the research going on in this place that counts la…..

Me: Don’t care. It’s nice. That’s all I care. You’re lucky to be able to do your Part II project here, dude. Man, I wish Iwas doing a cancer-related Part II project at this place.

The strangest things do happen. And sometimes, you get more than what you bargained for.

Scene 3

Time: December 2007

Place: Dawson Hall, Charterhouse Square, London, UK

I had an epiphany.

A sudden realisation.

It occured to me that I was still in love with her. Science. I cannot forget her, no matter how much I try. The excitement that she stirs in me is just too intense. Passionate. Full of life and energy. We first met when I was an impressionable young student. I admired her in her many forms. Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Mathematics – each of them representing different parts of the perfection that is her.

I used to hold dearly to the motto of the University of Michigan. Artes Scientia Veritas. And yet, I held strongly to the rhetorics of the German pathologist, Rudolf Virchow who argued against ‘science for the sake of science’ (Virchow believed that everything in science is applied, and there is no merit in pursuing ‘science for the sake of science’. The purists might disagree…).

Yet, I was still commited to my first love. Medicine. For as far back as I could ever remember, I have always longed for her. She was the one thing that brought light to the destitute, and hope to the despaired. She was the one that everyone turned to when they were at their bleakest hours of their lives. She gave, selflessly, without discrimnating creed or color.

What if I wanted both of them? Could they co-exist in harmony? More importantly, was I able to envision myself spending the rest of my life with the both of them?

(pardon the romantic personification of science and medicine. *how nerdy can I get, huh?*)

I thought long and hard. It was a moment of existentialism.

Follow your heart.

Follow your heart.

My mind was flooded with flashes of conversations that I had earlier that day, with a few different people, one being the abovementioned friend and another medical school-mate in the same hospital. (Refer to my previous post on ‘An Epiphany’)

On one end of the spectrum:

‘A good scientist can never be a good clinician’

‘A doctor who spends too much time with his patients can never produce ‘world-changing’ scientific work’

On the other end of the spectrum:

‘The thought of finding something new everyday gives you a reason to live’

‘Some of the clinician-scientist I’ve worked with are the best clinicians in the hospital’

Fast forward to present time.

As I am typing this post today, I can  only ponder with bemusement at all these events that have transpired over the past year. Certainly a lot has happened since then. I am only glad that I’ve finally made up my mind. There is some truth in what my friend had said. The thing about that good feeling you get when you’re applying to a school for admission.

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