An Unexpected Spiritual Journey: Applying for Medical Electives

From the beginning, I knew I was going to need a miracle. Five months ago I decided to apply for an elective in a cutting-edge, world leading research lab in the United States. My chances of getting in were extremely slim. My CV didn’t have enough bells and whistles: I was from a comparatively unknown medical school, I didn’t have enough experience in a lab, I didn’t have any letters of recommendation or awards to distinguish myself and I was a full-time student in rural South Australia, which made it logistically difficult to do anything about these issues.

Furthermore, I had also applied to do a second elective in Papua New Guinea but had not received a reply for months. The resulting uncertainty regarding  dates of my availability made planning near impossible. When I later missed out on my first preference and the medical school gave me a timetable that was logistically incompatible with the USA elective – my dream became an impossibility. That night, I got down on my knees and prayed late into the night that God would do a miracle. I didn’t give up – I believe in dreaming big with God.

And God began to open doors.

Photo Credit: EricMagnuson via Compfight cc

EVERY TIME A DOOR…

Within 36 hours, three things happened: a student colleague offered to swap timetables with me making the elective logistically possible, the coordinator of my Papua New Guinea elective finally replied accepting me and gave me confirmed dates, and a senior doctor from the USA elective emailed me saying that I would have a fighting chance if I could improve my CV. My jaw dropped.

A couple months later, I was lucky enough to be somehow invited to a post-graduate cancer conference where a prominent doctor invited me to do a lab placement over the summer. Later, I received a glowing letter of recommendation from a previous supervisor. All the doors were opening. I was amazed at the work of God. What I had previously though was impossible was now within reach. I began to believe that the elective was in his will.

Over the next few months, I spent hours drafting emails, letters, updating my CV. I spent time driving back to the city for meetings with supervisors and other events. I spent late nights reviewing the literature of the lab I wanted to work in. I invested a huge amount of emotional energy into all of this. After a 5 month process, I finally sent my letter of application.

There was a three week wait. Every (1) in my inbox got my hopes up that it would be the reply.

typing email (photo credit: Jsome1 via photopin cc)

FIVE MONTHS OF ANTICIPATION

It felt like a tonne of bricks when I got a very brief email back last week saying I had been rejected.

The impersonal nature of the email made it feel surreal.  I thought to myself – It wasn’t supposed to happen like this! It was one of the most disappointing moments of my life, but I was still surprised at how badly it hurt. Maybe one reason was because God had let me get so tantalizingly close. I was confused: God, why did you open all those doors if you were just going to close the last one? Why’d you let me waste all those hours, all that emotional energy investing in this? Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I sure was feeling the truth of that. I had invested so much of my heart.

My negativity also turned inwards. I realised how foolish I had been; I had no backup plan. Why had I put all my eggs in one basket? How could I have been so dumb! I felt crushed and demoralized. I was full of regret. I irrationally felt like I had let down those who had helped me get so close. But I didn’t have time to lick my wounds. Action was needed as there was now only 3 weeks to organise an alternative elective, a deadline imposed by my medical school. The situation was desperate: most medical schools/hospitals offering electives required months, not weeks to organise an elective; many others had already closed by this stage of the year.

I shot off multiple emails to various institutions – only to receive no reply. I directly phoned the specialist department of an overseas hospital in an attempt to find openings or contacts. Still no one replied. I felt another punch in the gut when I received email correspondence that one of my other electives for next year was now in doubt due to logistical reasons. I felt like I couldn’t take much more rejection. I couldn’t take much more uncertainty. I wallowed in self pity, hopelessness and anger against God.

(Photo derived from Flickr (Lel4nd) http://flic.kr/p/75bFvC)

OVERCOMING DISAPPOINTMENT – HOW I GOT OVER

But one day things began to shift. I came to church with my heavy heart, when the band began to play a famous song called “Jesus the the Centre” by Israel Houghton. It goes:

“Jesus be the center of my life

From beginning to the end

It will always be, it’s always been you Jesus.

Nothing else matters,

Nothing in this world will do

‘Cause Jesus you’re the center,

Everything revolves around you.”

It wasn’t a dramatic moment. I left church still with a heavy heart. I still didn’t know what to do next. But something definitely shifted. I’m convinced God’s work is often so subtle, that many miss it (Matthew 13:31-32). But that song spoke to me and planted a small mustard seed of truth in my heart. It wasn’t a sudden epiphany. But gradually over the next few days, my frame of mind began to shift. It was almost as if God was asking me: do you believe what you’re singing? Is your life really about God like you say it is?

But the questions didn’t feel harsh… they felt gentle, yet honest. Jesus said “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). And that’s what I experienced. I began to see the truth: I had let medicine become the centre of my life. Thus, when that was shaken, so was my life. My career had become my idol, and God had become my magic genie lamp, granting me wishes at my command.

Photo Credit: The Blind Glass via Compfight cc

I was convicted of the hypocrisy of  my own words: every morning this year, I had been praying everyday that God’s will would be done in my life, rather than my own (the Lord’s Prayer). I had continually prayed that I would trust my life and my destiny into God’s hands. But through this turn of events, God was showing me that perhaps I didn’t mean what I was saying. Despite my prayers, I still had an attitude of: God – give me what I WANT, not what YOU think is best.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s good and right to ask for material things from God, our loving provider – but I had let that become the main topic of my conversation with him in the last few weeks. Imagine if the only thing you talked to your parents about was asking for stuff? What kind of relationship is that?

I began to see that God was teaching me lessons far more important than getting what I want. He was revealing to me the state of my soul. My eyes were opened to see that my relationship with God had become reduced to me focusing on getting what I want, and throwing a tantrum when I didn’t.

Blinded by ambition and worry about my future, I had lost focus on everything he had already given me in my life to be thankful for. When I become fixated on experiences, materialism, career, status, success – my loss of perspective had been scarily insidious. I had forgotten God’s Word:

Colossians 3:2

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

God was opening my eyes to remember the truth that we each have so much to be thankful for in life.

Photo Credit: athena. via Compfight cc

The mustard seed grew and grew until I had had enough of wallowing in sadness. I literally prayed – ‘God, I have had enough!’ and found myself journaling three points:

  1. Life is too short to spend it worrying and wallowing in disappointment

  2. There are far more important things in life than getting what you want. Jesus is the centre. Remember the far more important things. In 30 years time, not getting one elective … it won’t mean anything.

  3. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him…” What does that mean? It does NOT mean you ask him for help to get what you want and get upset when you don’t get what you want. It means you submit the outcome to him – you acknowledge and accept the outcome whether it is the one you want or the one you don’t want.

And with those declarations came a dramatic change: a sense of freedom, a sudden peace about my situation, a joy about being able to ‘press delete’ on my burdens and start anew. The change was noticeable and a friend said to me that morning: “you’ve entered into a new state of mind”.

Indeed, Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

NO FAIRY TALE ENDING

There’s no fairy tale ending for this story. I’m still without an elective. But I still have joy in my heart again, by bringing Jesus back to the centre of my life. Though the disappointment of not getting what we want is real, God can turn it into a precious revelation. He can use it to reveal the heart – our motivations, what we really hold dear. Through disappointment, I started to see what was really important in my life again.

There are unique dynamics that God brings forth in the soul when we do not get what we want. When a person faces uncertainty, the extent to which they trust God is truly revealed. The real contents of a man’s soul is exposed. And only when we are exposed, do we turn back to what is really important in life:

“In his great mercy God has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…”

1 Peter 1:3-5

2 thoughts on “An Unexpected Spiritual Journey: Applying for Medical Electives

  1. Hello sir, I stumbled upon this post of yours just now because I was searching for some spiritual comfort. I am a licensed PT here in the Philippines, and I it has always been my dream to work as a PT in USA. Its not just my dream, but its also for my family here esp for my mom because she is a single parents and I want to help her with all of the expenses in our house. However, as of the moment I cant process all of the requirements needed for me to be a PT there due to some financial difficulties and the latest requirement that the foreign body of PT there just implemented. I am becoming weary and tired. I dont know what to do anymore, I just want to work there just so I can help my mom with the expenses in our house, to be able to pay for our house and of course to be able to give more tithes to our church. Can you please pray for me? Not just for me to pass the exams and to work there but I just want the peace not to worry about anything for my future. Praise God for people like you who write about God’s good works.

  2. I am just so blessed by this… it makes me see the bigger picture… I may have failed now but there is a bigger picture…who and what I focus mostly on is most important!!!
    Bless you bro.

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