C’est fini!

I finally wrapped up a short but eventful semester in France. The term ended with a brutal two weeks of exams followed by a presentation of my master’s thesis proposal in front of a jury from the Universit√© Bordeaux Segalen. Overall, the three months and a half I spent in France were pleasant. The exams were some of the most challenging I’ve had – I want to say ever, but at least that I can clearly remember. I must say in learnt a lot about psychopharmacology and addiction in Bordeaux (also, some French – enough to buy a baguette or ask for directions). Despite the linguistic challenges (see my ‘Douleur dans le pouce’ post), my time in France was a worthwhile experience.
As for Edinburgh, I’m about to finish the second module of the year before the Christmas holidays. Since I posted last, we’ve been focusing on acute medicine and clinical decision making. Surprisingly, I’ve found this module to be closely linked to neuroscience – cognitive neuroscience and psychology to be specific. We learned about all sorts of theories relevant to the making of decisions in clinical practice. Many of these theories are related to theories of basic cognition and working memory (another area of neuroscience which I learned a lot about in Bordeaux). Also, I’m writing up a review of a neurological emergency for this modules assessed assignment, somewhat bringing my two worlds together.
Juggling both my neuroscience MSc and my MSc at Edinburgh has been particularly challenging this semester. Exams overlapped, assignment deadlines for both programs fell often within the same week and I found myself stretched quite thin at times. This might be due to the fact that lectures in Bordeaux are long – four hours apiece twice a day! Now I have a month (until mid-January) away from all my studies to relax – well, kind of (I’ll be working on PhD and specialization applications a bit – but how bad can that be?). I’ll be spending this precious time at home in Sudan with my family. Also, blogging (I promise). I’ll be spending this time blogging about all the little ideas I’ve had since October and that I haven’t had time to put up here.

Douleur dans le pouce

Sticking out like a sore thumb. I don’t think I knew the true meaning of that expression until I came to Bordeaux. Not being able to speak French at a university in France is a challenge. Of course, the program I was enrolled in is supposed to be taught in English, yet that didn’t stop the professors from doing everything within their power to avoid teaching so. We were all warned about this, both by former students in our program and the program coordinators themselves.
For me, and my other ‘anglophone’ classmates (a term coined by our lecturers, I don’t even come from an anglophone country!) it was very awkward when the professors would announce to the class (this happened many times): “who here doesn’t speak French? Are you sure? Not even a little? I can speak slowly.” One or two lecturers even defiantly protested the fact that they were supposed to speak English for the sake of four or five students out of forty or so. Despite this, they all eventually switched to English – and most of them were completely understandable. Having an accent, however thick, doesn’t necessarily mean one can’t speak a language properly.
Of course, I’m not really blaming the professors or anyone else – the French are very proud of their language (justifiably so) yet they seem to be reluctant to speak English because of self doubt more than anything else. Perhaps French was once the language of science, as was German, Latin and even Arabic – but nowadays, it’s English. I think that the more willing people are to accept that the further they can progress.


One of my friends recently asked me whether I missed working with patients. He also asked if the MSc program I’m currently enrolled in at the University of Edinburgh helped remind me of what it’s like to be a doctor.
The first question was easy for me to answer – I do miss working with patients – research is great, and to this day I stand by the reasons why I chose to pursue a few years of research-based training after finishing my primary medical qualifications. However, bedside practice is irreplaceable and unique. For me, it’s the perfect mix of challenge and reward. I’m enjoying all the new things I’m learning about neuroscience, but I still look forward to the day I hang my stethoscope around my neck and return to the wards and clinic once more.
As for the second question, I had to think about that for a little while. It’s true that I joined the program in Edinburgh to keep my clinical medicine knowledge up to date, but I truly feel that it has surpassed my expectations. To be completely honest, before joining the program I had thought (like many other people do) that ‘part-time’ and ‘flexible’ translated to ‘easy’. In fact, however, the opposite is true. Not only does a part-time program like this require an enormous amount of motivation and time management, but it also tests an individual’s resiliency.
I frequently find myself solving cases at three in the morning – just like I used to do while I was a medical intern – after a long day of lectures or lab work. Now, I don’t know if the program is designed to work in this way, but this kind of pressure does in fact remind me of what it’s like to be a doctor. Most, if not all, of my colleagues enrolled in the program at Edinburgh are practicing clinicians, so perhaps they don’t see the program the same way as I do. Being a doctor is a challenge, and working under pressure is a part of everyday life for any clinician. I think the program does a great job of reminding me of that.