Every teacher teaches us something from a prescribed text or note. But the best teachers are those who impart wisdom from their heart – because that is the lesson that remains with us forever.
As an undergraduate, I used to be envious of many of my co-batchmates. Some were pure geniuses who understood the subject just after reading it once, while others were the ‘by-hearters‘, who memorized whole text books ad verbatim. While the former usually excelled in practical exams, the latter group invariably made a big impression during theory exams.
And then there was my kind ; the type of student who spent hours trying to understand how various drugs were supposed to act on various aspects of bacteria and always ended up cursing the people who made such long and tough names for these 5000 plus drugs. We were the type who made the externals frown and the internals develop premature grey hair with our bumbling ways during the exams.
It was during one such internal evaluation that was going horribly bad that I voiced the above theory to the pharmacology lecturer taking my viva ( as part of a plan to get his sympathy, I recall ! ). I still remember his fun laugh and warm smile ... and his advice.
“Don’t try to be someone else. All of us have our strengths and weaknesses. Play to your strengths. Think of what you are good at and use it to help you remember.”
9 years later, I sat across the table from my post graduate examiners. As always, I was a slow starter, fumbling and stuttering my way through the case presentation. The external, in his initial barrage of questions, had perhaps gauged that I was better at the practical and management aspects of the subject than in certain basic aspects that, truth be told, I’d not read for a long time. Further questioning by him confirmed these doubts.
For my part, I was thoroughly disheartened at the way the case discussion had gone off track.
The stage was all set. The lion had smelled blood and was moving in for the kill. The examiner smiled at me and said – “Forget the case you took. Let me see if you remember your old physiology. Tell me the clotting factors, but only the ones I ask. And I want immediate answers.”
I think I almost smiled at that moment.
I had not read the clotting factors in over a year, but the words of my pharmacology sir echoed in my head... “Play to your strength. Now, tell me, what is your strength ?”
I had replied frankly to him that day. “Sir, my strengths are my creativity and my friendship.” We had laughed at that answer then, but he gave me an example of word association to recall, of all things, the clotting factors by associating them with my batchmates... an example that would come in handy 9 years later.
Examiner : Tell me the 4th factor.
I remembered my roll number 4 - a soft spoken guy with big front teeth... teeth laden with..
Me : Calcium.
I could see the examiner was visibly taken aback. He had not expected me to even answer one.
Examiner : 9th clotting factor.
I recalled my roll number 9 – a really fair girl; her skin white as snow... snow.
Me : Christmas factor.
Examiner : 6th factor.
One of my best friends, my lab partner and a really fun gal... who, like me, is also amazingly absent minded.
Me : Absent factor.
Examiner : 5th factor.
I saw, in my mind’s eye, my batchmate who was really good in the ‘labs’ of biochemistry and pharmacology.
Me : LABile factor.
Examiner : 7th factor.
I smiled. The original 007 of the college. The cool guy. Me.
Me : STABLE factor. ( Modesty, as you can see, was not one of my finer traits ! )
Finally, he smiled, appeased. "Good. Very good. I am impressed. Continue with your case history."
All those years back, sir had helped me use my silly strengths to create a formula that he promised me would help me someday, as long as I remembered my friends.
I never believed him.
9 years on, in an exam, that would define my career, his words came true. From that moment on, my confidence grew and I answered with a more relaxed frame of mind, avoiding any more major pitfalls throughout the day. A fortnight later, the results were out. I had passed. I had become an anaesthesiologist. And along with the gratitude towards the staff at my PG course, I said a silent thanks – to a pharmacology lecturer who gave me confidence at the right moment, without ever knowing the value of his words.
Don’t despair when you see others cross hurdles you fear you cannot. The road to success was never meant to be easy. Rather than complaining about things you are incapable of doing or changing, instead identify your strengths and utilise them wisely to help you succeed.
Someday it may make the difference between passing and failing. Someday, more importantly, it can make the difference between a patient’s life and death.
"A teacher affects eternity:
he can never tell where his influence stops."