Classically, I have always been motivated by the desire to do well. All throughout my academic life, I have striven to achieve A and A* grades. Obtaining the results I wanted was always enough motivation for me to be studious and hard-working. Moreover, another important factor in keeping me driven was (friendly) competition from my peers. I vividly recall my elder brother’s advice before I started my GCSE years (year 9-11). He told me: ‘become friends with the smartest people in your class/year and then work hard to beat them!’ This was brilliant advice, I must admit, since we are the average of the five closest people around us. So as a side note: keeping good company is always crucial for self-development.
But now in medical school, although I have still been able to achieve consistent results in the top 10-15% of the year (ALL praise is for God), I felt my motivation being questioned. For some reason, these results started to feel quite empty and didn’t give me the joy or incentive as they had once done.
In my third year, my first result of the year (in October) was outside of this top 15% that I was normally getting. Previously, I had imagined that such a situation would cause me a massive amount of distress and anxiety but guess what? The world kept spinning and I actually breathed a relief of sigh and thanked God. I felt a huge pressure being lifted off my shoulders and I look back at this event as a significant turning point in my academic career.
This epiphany made me realise that striving for perfection is an admirable quest, but falling short of it is mere proof that we are only human. It may sound like I’m being melodramatic but that exam result demonstrated to me that, ultimately, it was not great results that motivated me and nor will they be the deciding factor in me becoming a good, competent doctor.
As you may recall in my previous blog, it was also around this time when I was battling burnout. My priorities started to change and I was more focused on becoming a well-rounded doctor.
So what do I use as a source of motivation now? Recently, I heard an amazing piece of advice; one that has changed the whole way I think and approach my learning and placements. We should not study incredibly hard, put the hours in and make sacrifices merely because we have exams at the end of each semester. Rather, we should do so because of the fact that the knowledge and skills we build now, as healthcare students, may ultimately be able to save someone’s life one day. Now, every time I am in class or in hospital, I bear this thought in mind and it focuses and encourages me to pay closer attention to the information in the books and the things I learn on the job.
The fact that we can directly impact somebody’s health is an amazing privilege that healthcare professionals have. There’s not many professions out there that have such a responsibility or opportunity. By regularly reminding ourselves of this fact, it ensures that we remain motivated to learn new information and practice new skills as they could be the difference between life and death for a future patient of ours.
Imagine, being the only doctor in the renal unit at 3am on a night-shift. You get bleeped to a patient who’s recent blood test has shown dangerously high potassium levels. This could soon stop their heart from beating. What will you do? It is precisely situations like this, which are not uncommon, that motivate me not to be lazy and skip important lectures, placements or learning opportunities. I want to be well-prepared for any life/death situations where the knowledge and skills I *should* have can come into use.
As students, we have the advantage of being able to learn and make mistakes in a relatively low-risk setting as we are constantly supervised and don’t make the ultimate decisions regarding a patient’s management. We should therefore make the most out of this to further our learning. Finally, loving the process and the journey itself is crucial to staying motivated. But I admit, (many) moments of procrastination and laziness still do creep in!
I’m interested to hear what keeps you motivated (whether you are in healthcare or not!). Any additional thoughts? Also, what would readers want me to write about next?
Until next time, thank you for reading and keep smiling! 🙂