Afnan (kneeling, second from right) and team winning first place in 7’s rugby for the annual London Easter Games last year. (Below) Afnan before the graduation ceremony in Portsmouth last year.

EVER had that moment when plans you have painstakingly made somehow did not materialise?

This was the situation faced by Afnan Abdul Rahman when he found out he couldn’t take up medicine after completing his International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma programme.

Being interested in science since young, particularly in biology, Afnan had had his heart set on becoming a doctor after getting good results for his Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) exam and being accepted to do IB at Kolej MARA Banting in 2011.

Afnan’s confidence that he was on the right path was further boosted when he was selected for the lrish Universities and Medical Schools Consortium (IUMC) programme during the first of his two years in Banting.

However, things didn’t pan out as he had planned.

“To make a long story short, I did not pass the subject requirement for that particular course and I went to MARA to discuss my options. I was disappointed but tried to make the best out of the situation,” said the charismatic chap.

One good thing about the IB diploma was that Afnan had the freedom to pursue other courses related to his interest at degree level in universities all around the world, not just in Malaysia.

“I did a lot of research on my options and I was intrigued by the Graduate Entry Medicine (GEM) programme in which you need to have a degree beforehand before applying for a four-year medicine degree course. Logically, I simply thought that by going through that route, I’d become a more knowledgeable doctor,” he shared.

Afnan went on to pursue a BSc in Biomedical Science (Honours) degree at the University of Portsmouth in England in 2013. After doing his final year project, which was conducted mostly in laboratories, he knew that a career in biomedicine was not for him.

Towards the end of his first degree course, Afnan had decided to enrol into a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery Programme (MBBS) next. He was even more determined when he received the overall results for the Biomedical Science degree which made him eligible for the GEM programme.

“I graduated in July, came back to Malaysia around early August and started medical school at SEGi University in Kota Damansara around mid-September last year. To do medicine overseas would be costly — hence, the decision to do it locally. Considering all the pros and cons, I chose SEGi because of their three-year clinical phase which is conducted at Sibu Hospital in Sarawak. I like to explore different places, cultures and views,” he said.

On his parents’ reaction, Afnan said they were supportive as long as he was certain of what he wanted to do and that he could continue to persevere in his studies.

“My parents always believed in whatever decision I make, of course with advice and reminders, which made me the person I am today. I was never affected by the thought of studying for another few years because I know medicine requires the constant learning of new things and the application of knowledge we learnt throughout our lives. It will never be a waste of time and perhaps, the longer process would make one a better doctor. The more you know, the better it’ll be,” he said.

Afnan said all this while he had already had the intention of doing medicine because deep down he felt the profession suits his personality. “It’s a bonus that I am curious as to how the human body works, its interaction with the environment and how sometimes things can go wrong leading towards diseases and also how it can be treated. I love interacting with people and most importantly, I love the feeling of assuring people that they are safe and that every problem can actually be solved and even though at times when the prognosis is poor, it doesn’t mean that they can’t make the best out of it and that they don’t lose hope and give up on life,” he expressed.

Having studied in the UK and now studying in Malaysia, Afnan said the two experiences cannot be compared.

“As an example, in the UK, I feel like the system wants us to be more independent. The lecture materials act as a guide and that you need to do more self-study. Attending lectures is not compulsory but you’ll miss a lot even if you miss one lecture. The lecturers prefer presenting their knowledge verbally instead of putting it in lecture slides.

“In Malaysia, lecturers and students are closer, making it easier for students to directly ask lecturers questions. For me this is vital in our learning process. Both systems have their own pros and cons but for me as long as you’re keen to learn, it doesn’t really matter because you’ll adapt to whichever situation regardless,” he said.

He added that studying in SEGi allows him to meet many new people with different backgrounds and from other countries. “I have a classmate from Comoros — I didn’t even know of the country before this. To socialise in a setting with vast diversity is a golden opportunity which can make one more open-minded and understanding.”

As the current president of the SEGi University Medical Student Society, Afnan feels these values are important as the organisation is responsible for students’ welfare, acting as a bridge between the students and the administrative bodies of both the faculty and the university, and also maintaining a good collaborative relationship with the Asian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) of Malaysia.

“My role as the president of the society is to supervise and make sure that every aspect mentioned above run smoothly,” he said.

Afnan expects to graduate with a medical degree in 2021. For Afnan, the current learning phase is a new experience. “Compared to studying in school and college where we had to learn all sorts of subjects and undergo many exams, this is the first time I truly appreciate what I learn. Thanks to my previous degree, I have a much better understanding of medicine. Also, I am finally spending my days learning only topics I am passionate about,” he said.

“But I am not saying what I learnt previously was not important. They did play a role in developing my critical thinking skills and taught me to always view things from various perspectives,” he remarked.

Afnan wants to become a surgeon one day. “They say that you’ll know what you want to do once you’ve finished all your rotations during the clinical years. I aspire to be the best doctor I can, and contribute to society by increasing awareness on how it is up to us to lead a healthy life by living an appropriate lifestyle. As they say: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. I think everyone deserves the best health care possible.”

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