How A Pencil Became My Teacher – Ayesyah Abdullah

pencilMost afternoons, just after finishing bed side teaching sessions, clinics and procedures, my friends and I would just chill at the hospital’s café. Our usual spot would be near the huge glass panel, the only spot where the sun will shine directly into the window. Most days, we talk about everything under the sun and like most girls, talking is therapeutic for us.  One afternoon, while sipping our Nescafes and Teh Tarik, one of us started asking herself why she ventured into the medical field. This is a common situation in medical school, especially when one faces lethargy, hopelessness and despair.  Being a third year student, I have had episodes when I feel like giving up medical school, when I start questioning why I want to become a doctor? When my friend started asking everyone else, some said it’s in their best interest to help another human being, some said it was their parents’ choice and some said because their results were good back in high school. At that moment, I did not have an answer. It was as if I had forgotten the reasons I wanted to be a doctor in the first place.

You could say I was jaded; demotivated and all other negative adjectives there are in the thesaurus. Well who would not be? You have to study day and night. You trade your weekends to study for a test on Monday. You get scolded when you cannot come up with all the causes of atrial fibrillation. You get anxiety attacks at night.  You will be down with flu for staying too long in the medical wards. You are going bald, having acne, or even putting on weight because you stress yourself out. Given these circumstances, not just medical students, doctors, nurses, anyone in this world will question themselves at some point of time. Well if they do not ask themselves, then other people will. The reason I usually parrot when anyone asks me why I want to be a doctor would be “because I am passionate in saving lives”. Passion, such strong word.

Ever heard of notes for a rainy day? Ever since I was 18 years old, I started keeping small notes in a jar, writing to myself whenever I am at my happiest moments. Thus, whenever I am bitter and pessimistic, these letters would remind me of how beautiful life actually is. Ergo, that night, feeling gloomy, in search of some sort of inspiration, I opened the jar of notes and read through each note hoping to find one that would remind me why I wanted to be a doctor.



The note I found was a quote I wrote from Paulo Coelho’s The Story of a Pencil. Depends on how one sees things, the pencil has 5 qualities in which one should hold on to in life.

  1. First quality – one is capable of doing amazing things but one must always remember that there is a “hand” guiding them, that hand is God.
  2. Second quality – after a while, a pencil needs to be sharpened. In life, you have to endure certain pain and sorrows because they will make you a better person.
  3. Third quality – a pencil enables us to rub off our mistakes with an eraser, which means that correcting our mistakes is not a bad thing as it keeps us on the path of justice.
  4. Fourth quality – the most important thing about a pencil is the graphite in it. We often forget about this. But without it, there would not be a pencil. Thus, one should always pay attention to what is happening within you.
  5. Fifth quality – a pencil always leave a mark in the same way that everything you do in life will leave a mark, so try to be conscious of that in your every action (or maybe think before you act?)

After reading the note, my spirits lifted. This note reminded me that, like a beacon guiding a lost fisherman to the shore; God, lecturers, family, friends and patients too, were always there for me, guiding me every step of the way. We are all capable of doing great things but we still need guidance. It can come in all forms, even in the form of a lecturer scolding me for not knowing how to count the expected date of delivery of a pregnant lady. I should be grateful for that and always remember that what the lecturers are doing are only in our best interest, so that I will be a better doctor and save lives. The pain and sorrows are there to teach me life lessons; I should always reflect and think what I could have learned from them. Experiences are one of the best teachers. The fourth quality made me realize I have not been paying attention to what has happened to me. I was always too eager to learn and memorising facts till I have forgotten the joy of learning. I had turned myself into a textbook hungry zombie.



The last quality was the real reason why I wanted to be a doctor. My parents have always taught me to be meritorious and I strongly believe by being that, I will leave everlasting marks. At a young age, I had always seen the hospital as place of hope. When patients go to the hospital, what they have in mind is a possibility. Whenever there is a possibility, there is hope. Hope is what makes us brave and strong when facing difficult stages of our lives. Being a doctor gives me the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, variety of attitudes and having the purpose, to seek treatment, and I thought to myself that if I could offer them treatment, save their lives, put a smile on their face, go an extra mile to just make them feel better, I would be satisfied and content with myself. Because I am part of something so amazing, I am a part of hope. However, bearing in mind that not all disease can be cured; the next best thing a doctor could offer is alleviating the pain that a patient is suffering. In PPUKM we were taught to always try to understand the biological and psychosocial impact of the disease so that besides treating them , you can also lessen the negative impacts of the diseases to the patients and family. This will improve their livelihood. As a doctor, these are the everlasting marks or contributions that you will leave behind.

The purpose of doctors is not to just treat diseases, but reaching into the lives of their patients, community, nation and humankind. I am passionate to be part of this purpose. This passion I have is the driving force for me to undergo all forms of challenges to be the best doctor I can and will be. Whatever path that you choose to embark on, just put your heart into it, hold the five qualities of a pencil and you will achieve maximum potential. We are all destined for great things.

This article is written by Ayesyah Abdullah, a 3rd year medical student in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Read more about her under the Young Columnists tab. 

5 comments for “How A Pencil Became My Teacher – Ayesyah Abdullah

  1. Dr Sofwan Albar
    November 26, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    Good words from a going-to-be doctor. Put far far away all those negative thoughts. You are trying to understand a human, and you must become a human too.

  2. Mademoiselle Nur
    November 27, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Truly a wonderful article, full of inspiration and motivation that psych myself up. I favorited these sentences, “Whatever path that you choose to embark on, just put your heart into it, hold the five qualities of a pencil and you will achieve maximum potential. We are all destined for great things.”

  3. Dr Ahmad Nordin
    November 30, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Thanks for the article. I never thought of a jar, I only have a single note I wrote in my early uni days which i kept in my wallet with similar thoughts as yours. Things are going to get tougher once you graduate, as we are dealing with lives, stakes will be higher. Just remember to keep on going, most of us face a slightly easier time with experience and after learning few tricks of the trade 🙂

  4. Arifah
    December 1, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    This is a very motivating article. Because like mentioned in the article, I too did experienced at some point where I doubted the path I took, learning Engineering in a non speaking English country. Thank you for this wonderfull article.

  5. amoi
    December 11, 2013 at 12:01 am

    thanks for this, thanks for remind me what is the purpose of why i’m here in this field… and now. i can feel the spirit. yes! it was beautiful if we can be someone that can put a smile on someone face. this dedicated me. :’).

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