3rd November 2020 | Community

Coffee Chats: Lien Salcedo

By Clarissa Sandejas

Coffee Chats are conversation-style interviews with the FiliFest Community that take place over a cup of coffee. Today’s chat happened over Zoom, where Lien and I discussed life as a Medical Student and her journey into medicine. 

She wanted me to let you know that the photo we took was not staged. #Candid

Lien Salcedo is a third year Medicine MBBS student at St. George’s University of London, where she is the Vice President of the campus Filipino Society as well as the VP of the SGUL History Society. In between her studies, hospital placement, and part-time job, Lien is a FiliFest Admin Officer and the Anatomy lead of the SGUL Medical Education (MedED) Society.

When did you decide to do Medicine for uni?

I was doing a Work Experience in a nuclear medicine ward. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do for uni at this point and I thought I might as well shadow a doctor. I was teetering towards dentistry if anything - they say that’s where the money is. [Laughs] Honestly, I was just there to have a look.

That day, I was with Dr. Saira and she was showing me how she analyses her scans. And I don’t know, something sparked within me. I was like, “Wow, I want to do this!” I thought it was so fun and so interesting! Do you know that feeling when your heart says, “This is what I want to do” and “This is going to make me feel fulfilled”? That’s how I felt.

Why did you choose medicine?

Both my parents are nurses, but unlike stereotypical Asian parents, they didn’t want me to become a doctor. (My mom pushed me to be an accountant!) They said the workload was too much, but I’ve always liked human biology and I wanted to do Med.

I went into it for philosophical reasons as well. There’s this book by Paul Kalanithi called When Breath Becomes Air and it really opened my eyes to the moral aspect of practicing medicine. He wrote about his experiences, including as a med student. One of the most poignant moments in the book is when he described dissecting a cadaver. He said that the examiner was shocked at how emotionless and mechanical he was while doing it. Because he worked with human bodies so often, it became routine for him.

He had to remind himself that, no matter how many times you repeat the task, you can’t forget that you’re dealing with a human being. It’s something I always want myself to remember, because becoming disenchanted like that is what I’m scared of most. Patients are people, and they deserve the best care you can give rather than something routine. You want to always remain mindful and respectful of their humanity as you deal with their bodies.

But yeah, it’s the idea that we are conserving a person’s essence, their soul, by treating their outer body. And I think that’s beautiful. It makes medicine an altruistic art rather than a profession. 

Was med school what you expected it to be?

I thought that med school would be challenging because the concepts would be too complex to grasp. But it’s not that the lessons are too difficult to learn, it’s that there’s so much content that you have to remember. Because there’s so much to learn in so little time, there’s a lot of pressure just to stay afloat. You really have to be organised. That’s where the whole idea of a med student studying in the library at 2 am comes from. The workload is a lot to handle.

Anyone can go into med school - I really do think that. If you have the grades and the drive then you can go into med school. You just need to put in the work so that you can take all the information in.

What would you say to someone who wasn’t sure if they wanted to do med school?

I’m the worst person to ask for whether or not you should go to med school. [Laughs] I will convince people not to do it.

When someone says, “I want to go to med school” I always ask, “Okay why? And if they say, “Because I want to help people,” I go, “Well, you can be a beautician and help people, or you can be a nurse and help people.” I would ask them if they’re aware of how heavy the workload is and how stressful the life of a junior doctor can be. 

In the UK, junior doctors work so hard and get paid pittance. I would want them to be realistic. Going to med school is a huge commitment. You have to do five to six years worth of work and pay that much in tuition - you wouldn’t want it to go to waste if you changed your mind.

In your opinion, what essential qualities should a med student have?

I personally don’t know. I can’t say, “Oh you need to have these qualities” because honestly, everyone’s different. If you put in the work and you have the organisation skills, you can do well.

I have a coursemate who’s a model. (Miss England 2020 is a doctor!) And there’s a guy in my course who has international businesses on the side. I don’t know how they do it. But yea, that idea that you have to be working all the time and spending your day at the library isn’t as true as people think. There isn’t a stereotype that all med students fit into, there’s so much diversity in what the students are like.

What made you join the FiliFest Community?

I thought it would be a great place to meet other Filipinos and people who are committed to what they do. I’ve met a lot of great people so far, and they’ve been really helpful!

And lastly, if you were a halo-halo, which ingredient would you be and why? 

I’m not gonna lie to you - I don’t like halo-halo. [Laughs] I like jackfruit, though. So I would be the jackfruit, because it’s delicious.

You can reach Lien on instagram @bb.liensalcedo.

Would you or someone you know like to participate in a Coffee Chat? Join the FiliFest Community, or email us with the subject “Coffee Chats” at [email protected]


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