Overwhelmed students deserve wellness breaks in this pandemic—and 7 ways to cope!

As I am writing this, our university’s wellness break is nearly done. Echoing the clamors of students who were stuck at home for their online classes, and imitating those institutions who went on and gave the precious time of rest for their students, my university offered one week of rest for studying: no classes for both synchronous and asynchronous sessions, no assignments or projects, no advance readings or anything.

Unfortunately, this week was just like the other weeks I had since I started school this year due to other commitments. But I do admit that it was an eye-opener: I was able to explore more things around me and was made aware of some places that are quite new here in our city. However, I admit that taking a rest from all the study materials allowed me to enjoy mundane activities, especially catching up on my Netflix list and cozying up next to my wife.

I can attest to the stress and worry that online students have been flooding social media platforms about their classes on the internet. Yes, there is less hassle and less interaction with others (one thing that I enjoyed), but it is hard asking questions when things are not clear. Additionally, the recent typhoons that ravaged the Philippines, paired with the harrowing images of destructed houses and helpless people, may have added to the anxiety that has been brewing since classes started in September/October.

I, for one, have previously relayed my frustration and anxiety because of this pandemic. Having this wellness break is something that I really value.

Besides my university, other schools have also followed and set some form of a break, calling it from reading breaks to class breaks, emphasizing students’ need to free up their minds for some rest. Most of those in Luzon were given in response to the damaging effects of the area’s typhoons.

Some groups are actually asking to prioritize the students’ conditions in this pandemic and instead call for halting all classes as soon as solutions to the growing problems in the country loom. Some netizens support this call, yet others consider this as insensitive and unideal. Whatever your opinion on this matter, we should all know to point out some facts.

Online Classes are Necessary to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19

Nobody wanted COVID-19 to happen, especially for the people here in the Philippines. While the government is repeating its interest in prioritizing waiting for the vaccine to arrive before calling the pandemic a solved issue, avoiding crowds, wearing face masks, and washing hands remain the easiest protection that people need to avoid disease.

Zhou et al. (2020) have seen how online classes in China have helped prevent the pandemic. As much as we would like to see students interact with each other, online classes are the only ideal solution today.


Teaching Online is a Challenge for Those Who are Not Used to It

Even though this post presents the plight of the students first, it is undeniable that teachers are another set of people greatly affected by the shift in the mode of instruction. Teachers can be interactive in their approach, and having online classes could remove the connection they want to have with their students.

While interaction may occur in synchronous classes, asynchronous ones, or those recorded before the classes’ schedule, are even worse. They can be watched at other times and eventually be forgotten by the student.

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For whom is your ‘medicine’ for?

For a medicine student, Facebook is a nice place to explore other people’s ideas and to connect with other students and doctors who share tidbits of their experiences and opinions online. I chanced upon an article shared by a friend about Tu Youyou, the awardee for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015.

Tu was the recipient of half of that year’s prize for her contributions in discovering a novel therapy for malaria. It was reported that she took on this research upon orders from Mao Zedong himself. Tu said that she did not want to be famous for her work, saying, “I do not want fame. In our day, no essay was published under the author’s byline.”

However, in contrast to what Tu Youyou has managed to have, our culture sometimes depend on patronizing people to prove their worth, and medicine is not indifferent to this. People flock to the clinics of famous doctors because they are proven to make miracles happen. We are sometimes required to claim our practice as ours, to treat ‘medicine’ as our own.

Here at Roxas Hall, we are taught to be cautious and generous to our future patients. Since day one, we are constantly reminded that medicine is not a means to become rich. We are even challenged that if our goal to become doctors someday is to be rich. We must stop this journey once and for all.


‘Trip to Mars’

We were taught that rational prescriptions to patients might even mean prescribing no medicines for them. Of course, we are told not to follow what some doctors do, where they overprescribe medicines whether the patient needs them or not, either broad-spectrum antibiotics for simple infections or a range of medications from one company.

I have heard about a doctor that would require all laboratory tests and prescribe a third-generation antibiotic together with other medicines manufactured by a certain pharmaceutical company whenever a patient comes for a checkup. I would always hear gossips about doctors who avail of “trips to Mars” every year because of exceeding quota for a prescription.

It is sometimes disheartening that people would look at doctors like predators who about themselves first. While we know that these instances exist, it can sometimes demoralize us since we’re taught to be total opposites of these doctors.


‘Laway lang ang Puhunan’

Even though social media websites can inform the learned, they may also become avenues for bullying and false accusations toward health practitioners. Some of these reports are unfair and may even be false; patients tend to think that they are masters to be served and not patients to be cared for. However, there are some cases where patients’ accusations were true.

Aside from the “loyalty prescription” happening, physicians tend to be the subject of ire from patients because of expensive consultation fees. They would always say that doctors can charge any amount and only have their saliva as an investment, as they burden patients with numerous laboratory tests and high fees.

Even those in government hospitals are being accused of taking advantage of patients. We can’t deny that these things are happening as the advent of faster information exchange continues to hound us with these stories.


Rich Doctor, Poor Doctor

We can’t also deny that people see doctors as those from the upper social strata levels. Most doctors would drive cars, live in big houses, and wear expensive clothes. Because of this, people see medicine as a good money-making profession, offering the best future for everyone.

Meanwhile, doctors who are not extravagant in their appearance would sometimes be called ineffective, with the absence of their wealth a proof that they do not do their jobs well. As a student, I become astounded by this narrow-minded comparison but cannot help as this is what society has shaped our fellowmen’s attitude.

Again, we can’t deny that medicine has become a vanity desired by people for personal gains. But does this qualify as a necessity in this journey?


Giving our ‘Medicine’ to the People

In 2014, the Department of Health (DOH) debunked the notion that the country lacks doctors. Officials were quick to retort that the Philippines has enough doctors. They said that there was just maldistribution due to low compensation for those willing to serve the people.

However, after two years, former DOH Secretary Paulyn Ubial said that we still need 15,000 doctors. Our doctor-to-patient ratio is stuck at 1 doctor for 33,000 patients, especially to far-flung areas. This led the country to devise schemes that encourage doctors to choose service even just for some years of practice. But this must not prevent us from striving to be effective healthcare providers for our sick countrymen.

Aside from learning to be effective physicians someday, we must also strive to change doctors’ views. I hope that our graduates will be like beacons set apart and show compassion to people, letting them know that we have nothing more but service to offer. Our ‘medicine’ should be for people who need it.

I’m glad that Roxas Hall has been constant in reminding us to be humble and serve the Filipino people, asking us to define who we offer this dedication to become doctors. How about you? For whom is your ‘medicine’ for?

How to Prepare for the NMAT Exam: Tips and Tricks to Ace the Exam

So, you want to be a doctor. And you happen to be a Filipino or want to study medicine in the Philippines. Before you can take the entrance exams to the school of your choice, you still need to prove yourself worthy. You need to take the country’s aptitude examinations for aspiring medical students.

If you have family members who were exposed to the world of medicine, you would have known about this examinations. This is the equivalent to the United States’ Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) but is not a computer-based exam like the latter.

The National Medical Admission Test or NMAT is described as follows:

The test consists of Part I and Part II. Part I is a 200-item test with four subdivisions, which are on Verbal, Inductive Reasoning, Quantitative and Perceptual Acuity Skills and is a three-hour exam. Part II is a two-hour-30-minute test in the field of basic sciences such as Biology, Physics, Social Sciences and Chemistry, all of which form 200 items. Qualified test takers are graduates and graduating students of degree programs. So that is 5 hours and 30 minutes exam in a day. Generally its results come in about 15 working days, and a candidate can get the admission as per college requirements. The grading system is percentile ranking from 1- to 99+ and marks are given ranging from 200 to 800.

In the past, third year and fourth year students in any Bachelor’s Degree program were permitted to take the exam. But the Commission on Higher Education issued their Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 10, s. 2006 or the “Updated Policies, Standards and Guidelines for Medical Education” which amended the requirements for those who want to be medical students. They are as follows:

Bachelor’s Degree (including those who will graduate by the end of the term, i.e., fourth year students)

National Medical Admission Test (NMAT)

Certificate of Eligibility for Admission to a Medical Course (CEMed)

Applicant’s Acceptance in Medical School

As you can see, the NMAT is very important before you can follow your dreams of becoming a doctor. I was blessed enough to have a good rating in my NMAT exam and was able to enter the medical school of my choice. Even though I was not an achiever back in my undergraduate days, I was still able to get a good score!

It’s NMAT season once again and if you were not able to know the schedule and more requirements for the examinations, visit the CEM web page dedicated for the NMAT here. The Center for Educational Measurement, Inc. (CEM) has been commissioned since 1985 by the CHED through its Technical Committee for Medical Education, to develop and administer the NMAT.

With the information given above, it is clear that you need to prepare your requirements first before doing other things. So, how do you prepare for the NMAT?


Enroll in a review class

People say that not all information you need in life can be found inside the classroom (haha) and that’s what review classes are for! Since your baccalaureate degree may not be strictly pre-medicine, review classes offer you a more focused venue for your goal of becoming a doctor.

Reviewers may offer essential tips or recommendations that you’ll surely use in answering your exams. The lessons are concentrated on topics that will cover all examination questions. Plus, your review centers may even give old test questions or exams patterned from the real thing that will give you a hang of the exam.

Some centers even claim that you can ace the exams through their help. Many have proven this and joining one will surely help you.


But if you can, self-study!

Not everyone can afford to pay for review classes and it is quite understandable. I was not able to attend any review session but was able to get good scores. This method is okay with those courses related to medicine, either directly or indirectly. I am a BS Biology graduate so I was able to use my course for the exams.

Although those with non-science degrees can still self-study if they have the resources. Since NMAT covers general subjects, one can find textbooks, even those from high school, to be good sources of information for review.

Others will even say that Wikipedia and Google helped them in their review.


Buy a review book

Since we’re on the topic of self-review, you may want to get copies of NMAT review books available in bookstores nationwide. Like the review centers, these books may contain old exam questions and exam sets that may have been patterned with what is given during the NMAT.

Some review centers would supplement their students with review books and larger review centers even sell review books under their names. The important thing is not to rely too much on these books. Again, these are just guides and memorizing the questions and answers may get you to nowhere. The best thing to do is still study.

Familiarize yourself with the exam types

NMAT has two parts and Part 1 is given in the morning while Part 2 is given after the lunch break. Part 1 exams cover the following: Verbal, Inductive Reasoning, Quantitative, and Perceptual Acuity. Each subset consists of 40 items and tests the mental ability of the student.

Part 2 exams include the following: Biology, Physics, Social Science, and Chemistry. Each subtest consists of 50 items and this part tests the academic proficiency of the student.

Remember that these tests have time limits!


Study your basic sciences

As mentioned above, the Part 2 of the examination covers the major sciences that most aspiring medical students are well aware of. Even those in non-science courses may be familiar with these subjects as they were also given in high school.

Biology. They say Biology students or those with health sciences degrees have an advantage with this subtest. Even though this may be true in some aspects, the questions given are general and surely lives up to its purpose in testing the proficiency of the student.

Physics. Many people say this is the Waterloo of most NMAT takers. Even though Physics is required as an appreciation course in many degrees, most of my friends and acquaintances tell that they forgot most of their earnings in Physics. I myself found the exams to be hard but thankfully I memorized the essential formulas for the test and thankfully survived.

Social Science. This came as a surprise to some of my acquaintances as they though NMAT would only focus on health and sciences. (They probably forgot to read the NMAT guide which you can get here.) As a Social Science junkie, I found the questions enjoyable to answer. Better be aware of everything around you. They might come up in the exams.

Chemistry. They say this belongs alongside Physics as the hardest tests in the exams. But Chemistry is an interesting topic and if you are planning to be a doctor, you need to appreciate it now before you’re shocked about how important the subject is in medical school!

One of the things that people are confused about the NMAT is its scoring scheme. I was also confused about this years ago. Here’s what CEM got to say about it:

The NMAT yields the following set of scores: (1) Part 1 subtest scores and a composite score called APT, (2) Part 2 subtest scores and a composite score called SA, and (3) a full composite score derived from the eight subtests called the General Performance Score (GPS).

The score on each of the eight subtests is expressed as a standard score (SS). The SS has a range of 200 – 800. The test results of examinees are compared to those of the norm group which has mean scores of 500 and standard deviations of 100.

The NMAT GPS is reported with a corresponding percentile rank (PR) that ranges from 1- to 99+, with a midpoint of 50. The PR indicates the percentage of NMAT examinees who has NMAT scores the same as or lower than the examinee.

The PR will be evaluated against the PR cutoff prescribed by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) or by the medical school. This PR cutoff is the minimum score that qualifies an examinee as a bonafide applicant for admission into his/her preferred medical school.



Memorize important formulas (especially in physics!)

I have said this before but I need to reiterate this. I would have finished my exams late if I was not able to grasp some formulas both in Physics and Chemistry before taking the exams. I got this technique from a friend and was truly thankful for it. It is a simple trick but it will surely help you.

Of course, most students who want to be doctors are already enrolled in science courses or are working as health care providers. This means that most are already learned in Biology. Maybe the best approach to this is to assess which subject you are not comfortable with. Giving more effort to that area would truly help you.


Research about the medical school you want to attend

Even though I did not see it coming while I was an undergrad, I felt blessed that I was accepted in the medical school that I want to attend. I have this rocky journey with my school but the point is, I would have done better if I thought over the means for me to be accepted to the school of my choice.

Some medical schools have tough requirements and cutoff scores. Here comes your NMAT score to play. You need to make sure that you are cut out for the slot that will be given to you. Yes, you may not be sure about your performance in the exams. But knowing that your chosen school has stiff requirements can pump you up and inspire you to study hard.

Not all medical schools, though, have high requirements for NMAT scores. If you were not able to be accepted in your desired school, you may always seek for alternatives. Medical schools have different requirements and they have their reasons for that. Yes, there is a ranking for medical schools in the Philippines but I think that will never define you or your future in any way. Getting to schools other than those with prestigious names and ranking is by no means a measure of being a medical student.

Of course, like all other aptitude exams, the NMAT will never define your capability or even your IQ. With the time constraint that you’re in during the exam, you have a great chance of giving the wrong answers even to questions that you know by heart. The important thing is to never waver and give up. If you think you have done enough, just try again and again. If you’re meant to be a doctor, with effort and timing you’ll surely get your goal.


Set your goals; believe in yourself

The best thing to prepare for the NMAT is to remind yourself of why you want to be a doctor. Yes, the NMAT is still far from the medical license that you want to get. But at the end of the day, your interest in having a high NMAT score would still rely on what made you decide to take it in the first place.

Set your goals and make sure that those goals are for the common good. The medical school journey starts at the moment you decided to take the NMAT exam. This is the best time for you to believe in yourself. This journey has many rough roads and sometimes these can be reasons that will lead you to doubt yourself. The way of the medical doctor is a blessed calling and those who even just want to be one are blessed in their own right.

If you have a hard time on believing in yourself, find other who might become your sources of inspiration. Faith is important; you may rely on God on this venture. Find hope from your families, friends, and acquaintances. Just remember that you are not alone in this and you can do it!


Final thoughts

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This is in no way an authority on how to prepare for your NMAT. I am not an expert in medical education. I have written these to perhaps help you in your own journey towards medicine. I have my failures in this journey but I wish that you, my reader, will have a better road and may you become a successful doctor in the future!

Please see the official NMAT website for information about the exam including the fees, the venues, and the requirements. Make sure to remember the dates! God bless!

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