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."
Henry Adams



49 Comments

Danny Simon said…
Awesome post!! I think this is the best one i have read of yours till now!!
When we focus on our strengths, we simply become the best!!!
Reminded me also of college days....your illustration with the viva was too good
beingFab said…
Lovely post!!!! It was inspiring and touching!! It feels good to think that our seemingly useless strengths may come in handy some time.
Aparna said…
These mnemonics for clotting factors are very witty!

I used to fumble remembering the drug classifications in pharmacology...but studying by association, tricks and picturing in mind helps a lot in memorizing.

The post was such a good read doc! And it also contained a very important message
Fun way to remember tough stuff. Lovely post and a nice message.

Lazy Pineapple
Roshan said…
Haha.. we have all been through vivas like this, right ? Oh man, remember first year.. such a culture shock.
Roshan said…
exactly... even the most 'useless' ability of ours can help us some day.
Roshan said…
For me, it was always about pneumonics - whether it be this, cranial nerves ( both names and mixed/sensory/motor ), drug classifications, disease classifications.. man, we have a lot of classifications, dont we ? :p
Roshan said…
Thanks Vinita. It is a necessity for us with all the stuff we have to remember
sinu said…
so much here too
sinu said…
i mean can relate very well with the story
maithili said…
I fall in the category of students who cant memorize textbooks and nor can they study every single day to master anything :P :P So well pneumonics and associating stuff with funny events or imaginations has been a big part of my academic career and basic things always come to us that way, don't they? That reminds me I too have to study lot of drugs for pharmacology exam :P :P I better make some mindblowing pneumonics now :D :D
Ankita Ghosh said…
I studied law, and I detested Banking law. One day (by providence perhaps) as I sat lamenting my plight with this subject, my teacher overheard me and he said, 'Law is nothing but codified common sense'. I pondered over it and the more I thought the less of a monster the subject seemed to be.. Maybe all this while I was investing in the wrong place - in fear, rather than in actually befriending the subject.

Your post goes on to show the power of words.. Somehow the littlest of things one says has the potential to make a very very large impact on the other's lives... Especially, someone we look up to - a teacher :)

A lovely post like always...
Roshan said…
thanks sir :)
Roshan said…
same pinch ... i passed pharmac with literally dozens of these pneumonics
Roshan said…
Thats the power of someone who doesnt teach, but inspires. A sign of a good teacher.
meoww said…
WOW!! Doc, this post is inspiring beyond words. Its absolutely amazing, how we can trick our own mind to help us at he right times. I am sure this technique would help in a lot of spheres in life.
Keep up the good work :)

Cheers!!
Rohan said…
Inspiring as always. .
Roshan said…
Thanks.. and yes, it really is fascinating how we can use the simplest methods to help us in different ways.
Roshan said…
Considering its a 2 years old post, glad to hear :)
Anonymous said…
This was an insightful post.
I too did not fall in either of the categories. I really had to understand something 3-4 times before I could write it down without memorizing it.
But yes, then you have to memorize certain stuff and I used to make short forms from names of classmates or movies or colors to remember them.
Viva for me was always like a pack of domino. If one fell, everything was gone.
Meety said…
Inspiring and beautifully written with a final section of inspiration which was well needed at the moment.. Thank you Doc :-)
Spaceman Spiff said…
*going through the table and looking for something that you can connect with me*
Nope, can't find SuperAwesome factor anywhere. :p
Roshan said…
my weak point was viva... I dont start of well and well, as u said, we rarely get time to make up for it before the whole pack starts collapsing :)
Roshan said…
Glad if its of any assistance. Good to see a new post after soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo long. ( button got stuck :p )
Roshan said…
if u see carefully, Factor 6 that i talk about is also not there - it was there, but later found to be something else - hence Factor 6.
Similarly, there was a OPAOSA factor which got removed later on. I cant remember correctly, but I think it was 'O Pinnae.Avalda orru Super Awesome' factor :D
Prats said…
Brilliant post... We don't even know when and how people impact our lives in subtle way that we don't even realize it for years.

Great way to memorize things :-)

Spaceman Spiff said…
:D :D :D Alright. I've been officially 'Doc'tered. Time to scoot!
*makes note of this snub and starts plotting an effective revenge*
Roshan said…
:D *starts practising martial arts in preparation of sneak attack.* Hai ! Hoo ! Haaa ! Haaaiya...Oww. Paper cut !!
Roshan said…
thats absolutely rt.. many times we dont realise the impact of people in our lives till years later.
Rohan said…
it might interest you to know that the original article still interests ppl!
Roshan said…
seriously ? I figured by now there wouldnt be a single copy available, except in soft copy form :)
Sumana said…
Lovely post..Ya few teachers make a ever lasting impact in our lives..
Esp the line "The stage was all set. The lion had smelled blood and was moving in for the kill." Super line :-)I just loved it..It describes the externals soo well :P
Rohan said…
Well then guess what we found out when they cleaned up the ashraya office! A bundle of heart calls!!
Roshan said…
haha.. externals were always a terror for me... either i never understood what they said or they never understood what i said :s
abdulla khaleel said…
hi rosh..

how many people from our batch is reading this?
how can we forget clotting factors .. we had coded it with roll numbers..
nice blog, hope many of our batch mates are reading this..

Roshan said…
I still remember it by this way. And I'm not sure how many batchmates read it... dont see the others comments here :s
Anonymous said…
Fun and very motivating reading it!!!
Amazing as all your other posts!!
Roshan said…
Thanks. Just saw your blog at a glance. will come back in detail once works over. saw a few articles that I know I want to read...
Anonymous said…
Aaaawww!! Thank you Sir!
abdulla khaleel said…
hmm.. excellent. any way your writing skills are becoming better day by day.. keep it up and use it for good things
Roshan said…
Thanks Kalu. Plan is for that only... to motivate :)
$$ said…
Beautiful. Did you share this with your teacher? I am sure he would cry (of happiness, of course!) & would be very proud of his student?
Roshan said…
Sadly, all this took place before the true era of keeping in touch via mobiles and all - I dont know where is , he left the college years ago. In our yearbook, I'm the only one who named him as my favourite teacher.
What a wonderful story! We never know who's words will affect us and how, or even when. Congratulations on becoming an anesthesiologist! What a wonderful accomplishment! And, thank you for sharing :)
Thanks Mary.. its true. words spoken years ago have such a strong impact on us at times
By-hearting was not my piece of cake too. I could relate to this as we used to make up such stories based on our study materials were the current becomes the hero and voltage the heroin. :D

Very beautiful post.
haha.. I guess everyone had their own quick-fix formulas, huh? amazingly, I still remember these formulas even today.
iihahs said…
Wonderful tribute. How a small minor lesson can help us, years later.
Exactly... I always feel we never know the impact of our deeds on others. So it's important to let them be good.