My rotation at Internal Medicine starts smack after Chinese New Year. Still in holiday mood, I paced into our CV ward on Wednesday morning (they gave us 2 extra holidays). Just after we got a taste of Internal Medicine, visiting professor Paul Chang came and just about overturned everything we perceive.
We were 'briefed' about his straightforward attitude and minimalist approach in case reporting. Every oral presentation must start with his golden format - Mr. X, a n-year old office worker, was admitted due to intermittent abdominal pain for 3 days. Not a word more or less.
On Monday afternoon a bald old man walked into Classroom 602. We were to sit in a circle and not switch places until he can remember all of us. I was at his 7 o'clock position, which means no skipping classes for me for the next 6 weeks. We get to know each other during the following 2 hours, very much awed by his globetrotting experience - born in China, escaped the communists and completed high school in Penang Chung Ling, first degree at Santo Tomas, the Philippines, medical school at National Taiwan University, training in the States, and a missionary doctor for 2 years in Hong Kong, where he learned how to eat and cook. This old man must have one heart full of guts to be working in so many places, I thought.
He is here to teach us "wisdom", not knowledge. He also emphasized that medical education should be cooperative, not competitive, which I agree wholeheartedly. He changed our perception that medicine is noble, life-saving and glamorous, to one that is humble, flexible, and ultimately, a problem-solving task. "Not a word less" he insists in our oral presentations. We once slid into a 30-minute jabber just because I used 'madam' instead of 'miss' for my female patient - there's no 'madam' in American English was my lesson that sleepy afternoon.
As we slowly caught the gist of his format - we were taught to ignore some very tempting information, ask trick questions, and reporting only the most relevant tests - we learned to enjoy medicine. Internal medicine transmogrified from the mountainous pile of textbooks into series of quizzes, gambles, and logics. I learned not to be afraid of knowledge, because I have a lifetime to learn them. I am more confident in skipping useless lectures now, because all they do is narrating the textbook. "Use your time wisely," Prof. Chang said.
We also learned how medicine could be related to social issues, history, and even art. For example, we learn amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) by studying Stephen Hawking, Hodgkin's disease by the history of Guy's Hospital, hemophilia and the history of European monarchies.
A doctor should act like one is also Prof. Chang's motto. Under his tutelage we observed how to talk to patients and colleagues, dress like a professional, walk like one, and enriching our life outside hospital. We were told not to buy textbooks if we have no intention of pursuing the specialty (so long, surgery textbook!), and to compensate your weaknesses with your strengths - like not doing surgery if you cannot stand for hours on end.
Our last day is also Prof. Chang's at Internal Med. Seated together during our usual afternoon meetings, I felt confident as I have all my directions mapped in front of me. I shall not learn 'fancy knowledge' without my fundamental knowledge, and there's no hurry for that, too. I flipped through my schedule to see if I will see him again during my next rotation, completely forgetting the agonizing and sleepy afternoons listening to his jibber-jabber about madam, miss and misses, and the endless nights rehearsing my 2-minute oral presentations.
What I am most proud of, though, is that he is my 50-year senior from Chung Ling. We share the same roots, and if he can do it, I probably can, too!
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