Tormented learning: A paradigm shift?

in Blog Rounds/Education/Training by

For most of us, the mentor-stimulus for learning is a unique experience. Our “receptors” for learning may accept signals from nice, approachable and likable professors. The feel-good- mentor attitude is irresistible.

But I learned most from the hard hitting, no holds barred tor-mentors. Not that I liked getting hurt or being hit upon for me to learn. But squeezing something positive from such “despicable challenges” always give me the “high”. Even if it was just for survival.

That’s what I think happened in these snippets of paradigms shifts during my college days.

You got a 0.5 grade for your term paper?!” Grinning, my friend Joselito added “that’s higher than 1.0! You’re amazing!” and then he burst out in laughter. Already red in shame, I grabbed my paper Joselito was waving in air inside our classroom. I went into cold sweats and then froze humbled on my chair. “A 0.5? How the earth can that be?

That was for you’re ink Mr. Tito! To give credence to your ink! You wrote a reaction paper instead of a concept paper, you *@#$!” This scumbag professor just didn’t remembered my name right. He also insulted me in front of our class. Judging from his snicker, he was visibly satisfied with my agony. I grimaced in anger while wishing the earth will crumble and I can smash the face of this fag.

How many times do I have to remind your weightless nut brain? You wrote a concept paper while I was asking for a reaction paper! So you get another 0.5 for your ink! Thats a 1.0 on a scale of 40 points!


Getting a 0.5 on two term papers and zero on the other two are not just pranks and whimpers. It is sabotage! For that I hated English and Communication as GE courses in Pre Med.

And then wished my bike would run over that darn professor.

That wish never came. I never had the chance to smash the face of that prof, nor I was able to wreck his neck. For some miraculous reasons, I did finish the course without having to take removals. On the last day of our our class (which was also a mini speech competition with chocolates and free cinema tickets as prizes), he walk straight to me and told me

You were one of my most improved students. I never thought I could turn such charcoals into diamond snippets that you are right now, speech wise. You owe yourself some chocolates and a movie! Thank that 0.5 you nut brain!

Just like that…

But I have this copycat habit of emulating some mentors in an attempt to incorporate their traits while forming my true self. Let’s face it, we take the values and personality we like and junk the others we deemed “crazy”. And mentors, are icons whether we like it or not.

Is that him? He looks like a bodybuilder to me than a professor.” I whispered to my seat mate. “Good morning!” came the booming voice over the classroom speakers. “I am Dr… and you are entering blah blah” The tall, muscled guy sounded like he’s going to mince us one by one. “…nobody said med school is easy. And being in the premier state university, you are expected to excel. So study harder…” The cool, smooth voice of this professor is surprisingly boring and frank. He means business and he is a no fun fare teacher. “He’s definitely making sure I’m par the slot I got in this premier medical school, or he’ll kick me out!”

“Hell no! I wouldn’t want him to do that! Not ever!

I want to be like this professor.” No, not his macho image nor his stern look. His frankness and no holds barred attitude is worth emulating. I thought he was a surgeon. But he is not. He devoted his time after med school to learn how to make medical students learn. On a very young age, he’s quite making an impression. “You flunk any of the exams. You better study harder.” So coming in to his office means you’re in trouble. At least for the time being.

For one whole semester of listening to his human anatomy and dissecting cadavers to no end, I am both scared and emulative of this professor. His brutal frankness scare the wits out of my brains. On the other hand, I liked his habit of telling the truth first and only. No dicing. When he talks, I make sure all my ears, including my brain, is listening. Even if I can only absorb a handful of medical information.

But his frankness is coupled with fairness. “I only record and calculate what scores you give me. You do the studying I do the grade calculations. Plain and simple.”Making sure you reflect the “results” you store in, is his concern. “You are actually grading yourself”. He told us in one didactics.

For the next 5 years I marked my medical school days with attitudes I first stumbled with this professor. Frank, cool and fairness. “Keep your medical life simple. Study hard and you will get what you deserve.

Though medical life is never simple as I’ve learned later, the attempt to simplify it was a fulfilling exercise nonetheless. I had paradigm shifts.

These mentors were part of my paradigm shifts- changes in perspectives that saw the positive in every opportunity that knock in, scary and the not so scary. They were my windows to the new world.

Mentors or tormentors?

Dr. Remo-tito Aguilar co-founded #HealthXPh. A board certified orthopedic surgeon, he is Chief of Clinics at General Santos Medical Center and Medical Specialist II Orthopedics at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. Dr. Aguilar is a healthcare social media evangelist and writes his medical musings at The Cast & Curious (www.remomd.com).