I had my first ambition when I was 4 years old. I wanted to become an architect, simply because my father is an architect and I thought it was natural for me to follow the footsteps of my father. However, I had absolutely no idea how the job of an architect is like.
When I was a child, I would fall sick every few months, where my grandparents would bring me to see our family GP. As time went on, I began to get fascinated with the job of a doctor, particularly on how a doctor could just ask some questions and do some examination and then determine the diagnosis and prescribe the medications. I was also curious to know how sicknesses arise and how medications treat sicknesses. I often read the labels of medications to learn more about them. Unlike many other children, I generally wasn't afraid of taking medications, in fact I loved the taste of some medications.
With that, I started having some interest in Medicine. Over time, I began thinking, perhaps I should become a doctor. From my observation of our family GP, his job was quite relaxing, as he just had to sit in an air-conditioned room, wait for patients to come to him and he would make a lot of money every month.
Meanwhile, as I began to know about how the job of an architect is like, I wasn't impressed with it. An architect has to visit construction sites a lot. On a few occasions, I followed my father to his construction sites and I felt quite uncomfortable being there. Just like Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars, I don't like sand because it's coarse, rough, irritating and it gets everywhere. Construction sites certainly have a lot of sand and other sand-like materials. I also observed that my father's job of an architect is very stressful. He had to work very long hours everyday and he looked so tired every time he returned home from work. His mood was often bad because of his stress from work. I could tell his job wasn't enjoyable at all.
Architects need to be creative and good at designing. I was very poor at the Arts subject in school. There were so many things I didn't know how to draw and I had essentially zero interest in learning it. That being said, architects generally do technical drawings which is quite different from the Arts we learnt in school. As a matter of fact, I wasn't bad at technical drawings and I even had some interest in it. Sometimes when I had free time, I would draw maps of roads and plans of buildings. My father was quite impressed with my work. Once, I drew a map of a major road interchange in Subang Jaya, which my father said was so accurate that even many of the architects in his office couldn't have drawn it so well. Despite that, I was well aware that being an architect involves so much more than just drawing maps and building plans.
The perceived stress of the job as well as the need to routinely visit construction sites made me stay away from becoming an architect. Instead, I felt that a doctor is a much better job. In school, I had been learning that doctors are there to save people's lives which makes them so noble. I could appreciate that this is what makes the job of a doctor so great, rather than how much money a doctor earns. Meanwhile, architects were almost never mentioned in the school books, and most of my classmates didn't even know what it is.
My family had also been saying that to be a successful architect, I would have to work in a big city like Kuala Lumpur. Having lived in Kulim for so many years, I really didn't want to leave the place. But if I were to become a doctor, I could just stay in Kulim and open up a clinic there. That made the job of a doctor even more attractive for me. When I was 10 years old, I decided to change my ambition from becoming an architect to becoming a doctor. When I told my friends in school that I wanted to be a doctor, some gave me their encouragement, while others questioned whether I could be a good doctor.
In the following years, I watched several drama series from Taiwan and Hong Kong. While those drama series weren't primarily about doctors, they did occasionally feature scenes in hospitals. That gave me some insights on the job of doctors working at hospitals, especially when I had never visited a hospital up to that point in life. From what I observed, a hospital is a nice work environment with air-conditioning and nice furnishings, and doctors are constantly going around saving the lives of their patients which seemed so interesting. In contrast, working in construction sites felt so terrible compared to working in hospitals.
2009 was a pivotal year for me, as three significant events happened that year. The first was the global economic recession known as the Great Recession. So many people all over the world lost their jobs because of that, and some even committed suicide. While my family wasn't affected, I felt bad for all those people affected, especially when many of them hadn't done anything wrong in their jobs. The Great Recession started all because the United States government failed to manage their country's economy properly, and the whole world had to live with the consequences of that.
The Great Recession made me realise that a lot of jobs aren't secure, as employees can be laid off at anytime, but being a doctor is different. A doctor will never be jobless as they can always operate their own clinic and there will always be patients. If I become a doctor and I hear news about an economic recession, I would be thinking about how I could offer cheaper treatment to my patients who are affected by the recession, rather than worrying about whether I would lose my job and whether I could get food on my table. I liked the fact that doctors always have a stable income, which further strengthened my desire to become a doctor.
The second significant event in 2009 was the H1N1 pandemic. In August 2009, the H1N1 was spreading widely in Kulim. One day, I felt lethargic and feverish. My grandparents immediately brought me to see our family GP. I felt that my fever was just low grade, but the GP said I had a high fever of 39°C after measuring my temperature with a forehead strip. He said that my lungs were clear which meant that it was quite unlikely I had H1N1. I was so relieved to hear that. However, he then said he wanted me to be quarantined at home, emphasising that I mustn't visit my friends or let my friends visit me.
My grandfather was extremely worried after hearing that, as he felt that the GP was still suspecting I had H1N1 despite saying otherwise. All the time, my grandfather was worried that my condition could deteriorate. Whenever my grandmother told him not to worry so much, he would brush it off, insisting that we must prepare for the worst. My sickness was already giving me a hard time, and the excessive worrying by my grandfather made my experience even more miserable. Worse still, I was having a school examination at that time and my preparation for it was greatly affected. In the end, I performed poorly in that examination, and my ranking dropped from 2nd to 64th.
I blamed the family GP to be the cause of my grandfather's excessive worrying and thus my misery. He used a forehead strip which is known to be not very accurate, which might have overestimated my temperature. His statement that I was unlikely to have H1N1 seemed contradictory to his instruction for me to be quarantined, which he failed to properly explain the reason. I felt that the contradictory statements indicated only two possibilities, either the family GP was unsure whether I had H1N1, or he had poor communication skills. Either way, it meant the family GP wasn't a good doctor, and I was reluctant to consult him again if I fall sick in the future.
2 months later in October 2009, it was the third and most significant event in 2009. The H1N1 pandemic had ended at that time. One day, my grandfather had haematuria. He immediately went to consult our family GP. As it turned out, the GP just tried to keep quiet as far as he could, avoiding the questions asked by my grandfather about his sickness. It was very clear that he couldn't make a diagnosis at all, despite haematuria being a common presenting complaint. He didn't even attempt to refer my grandfather to a hospital or a specialist clinic. My grandfather then travelled to Bukit Mertajam to consult a specialist physician. He was a bit worried about how much the consultation would cost. I, being so naive, reassured him that I was sure it wouldn't be too expensive as doctors are there to help people rather than make money.
The specialist physician diagnosed him with urinary tract infection and prescribed him with antibiotics and paracetamol. Much to our surprise, the bill totalled up to almost RM1000! That was a financial burden for my family. My grandfather started taking the antibiotics after returning home. On that night, he started experiencing tachycardia. He telephoned the specialist clinic to ask about it, and he was told to go back to the clinic immediately. We had to rush to the clinic in Bukit Mertajam at night. The specialist physician then said my grandfather was allergic to the antibiotics and decided to switch to another type of antibiotics. Guess what? He charged another few hundred ringgits for that. My grandfather hadn't brought so much money with him as we left home in a hurry. However, the specialist physician insisted on the payment. We had to travel to the specialist clinic once again on the next morning to pay the few hundred ringgits, only then my grandfather was given the new antibiotics.
For quite some time after he started taking the new antibiotics, his symptoms still didn't improve. He was so worried that it could indicate something more serious. However, he chose not to see a doctor once more, knowing that the family GP wouldn't be able to diagnose him while the specialist physician would charge him a high price again. My grandfather certainly was going through a very difficult time and I felt so bad for him. I blamed it on our family GP who lacked the necessary knowledge to be a doctor, and even more so on the specialist physician who was too money-minded to the extent of completely disregarding the wellbeing of his patients. It took a few weeks for my grandfather's symptoms to resolve. The whole incident, as well as the previous incident, made me realise that there are so many bad doctors out there and they bring a lot of sufferings to their patients. I felt that this definitely had to change, and I wanted to bring about the change.
I told myself that I must become a good doctor, who will equip myself with the necessary knowledge for treating my patients and focus on helping people rather than earning money. If I become a specialist, I would still charge my patients the same price as that of an ordinary GP. I firmly believed that the decision to become a specialist should be motivated by the desire the explore further in an area of medicine that we have a particular interest in, not to make more money. I wouldn't hesitate to offer cheaper treatment or even free treatment to my patients who can't afford it. I was sure that the amount of money a doctor earns is way more than enough to live a good life, so there should be no excuses not to help patients in need with the excess money. With that, I firmly decided on doing Medicine.
In upper secondary school, I chose to take the subject of Biology. I knew very well that Biology is required for getting into medicine. In Biology, I could learn even more about the human body, and for the first time, I learnt a bit about some diseases. I found it really interesting and I wished I could explore further. I did find Biology a bit challenging as the examination questions weren't straightforward and often required long answers, but in terms of learning the subject, I really enjoyed it. At that point, I had another strong reason for doing Medicine, which was my interest in learning the subject.
I had always excelled in the Mathematics and Additional Mathematics subjects in school. However, I wasn't keen to study a degree in Mathematics as I didn't really have an interest in Mathematics and I was concerned about the job prospects of a Mathematics degree. I was quite interested in computers, which was why I chose to take ICT in upper secondary school. While I enjoyed the subject a lot initially, once I started learning about coding and programming, I began finding it a bit tedious. As a degree in Computer Science or IT would surely involve a lot of coding and programming, I decided that it isn't for me. Therefore, I set my mind on Medicine.
After completing secondary school, I studied A Level at Taylor's College. In A Level Biology, I had the opportunity to learn even more about various diseases, especially through the topics of Gaseous Exchange, Infectious Diseases and Immunity. Learning about human diseases fascinated me. I was so sure that there was no other course than Medicine that I would be more interested in studying. Knowing that I want to become a doctor, my Taylor's College friends kept telling me about the qualities that a good doctor should have, including good communication and practical skills. I was aware that I lacked communication and practical skills, but I was confident that I could improve on them through the training I would get in medical school.
At that time, I heard for the first time from my friends and family that after completing medical school, all doctors will have to do housemanship for 2 years before they can practice Medicine independently. My initial reaction was highly supportive of it, thinking that housemanship would enable me to gain more experience to become a better doctor. Later, I began hearing some scary stories about housemanship, especially on how house officers are bullied by their superiors, being required to work very long hours and not being given time to eat.
However, I simply dismissed them as rare and isolated incidents. My thoughts was that doctors have a lot of knowledge and are highly respected by the society so they surely would be able to speak up and defend themselves against any bad working conditions. In April 2014, I joined a field trip to IMU. There, a lecturer said it was very likely that housemanship in Malaysia would be shortened to 1 year in the near future. I strongly believed what he said, and I thought, no matter how housemanship is like, 1 year is just a short time and I would get to do what I like thereafter.
I was primarily interested in opening up my own clinic, although I was also considering working at public hospitals. On the other hand, working at private hospitals or private clinics not owned by me would be an absolute no, as that would go against my principle of becoming a doctor to help people rather than make money. I didn't want to make a decision on what I would like to specialise in at that point. I felt that every area of Medicine is great in its own way and I would like to explore them first before deciding which is best for me. I also didn't think specialisation is very important, as I would be content with being an ordinary GP.
Finally, I started studying MBBS at NUMed in September 2014. I really looked forward to becoming a good doctor, still oblivious about the challenges that I would be facing.