Education - Medicine: USMLE Step 1

By Sri Skanda's Warrior of Light

August 11, 2004

It has been quite a journey for me and My Dear Lord Murugan. It has been 25 months since I had embarked on a journey to study medicine. I left on Sept 1, 2002 and returned on April 19, 2004 after completing my basic sciences medical education. Next was the daunting task of completing the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Exam) Step I and passing it. This has always been the hurdle that all health professionals must jump whether they be US, Canadian, or Foreign-trained professionals. Hence, this exam was not an easy one. There are three parts to this exam — appropriately termed Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3 — one must pass all three to be approved for licensure to practice medicine in the United States of America.

Of all the three parts, the first part is the most difficult because it focusses mainly on the core basic sciences and concepts that all physicians must have. The exam tests your knowledge to see if you have a thorough understanding of the disease processes and how they affect patient care and treatment. Thus, the exam was an 8 hour, 350 question (multiple-choice format) feat.

I was very nervous about this since I heard many students from my school did not pass this exam on their first try. What makes this exam even more challenging is that you can write this exam and if you pass, you cannot write it again to improve your score. Only those who fail can rewrite it. So the goal is to: aim high, score high, and pass on the first try!

So having come back from completing my basic sciences medical education on April 19, I had to sit down and review all the material that was taught to me in the past 20 months! It was very overwhelming because there was so much to know for the exam.

I instinctively then turned inward because my inner voice spoke to me (and I subsequently acted on its advice): "Do a Ganapathi Homam before you begin your studies."

I immediately phoned and pressured my mother to arrange for the earliest Ganesha homam at a local Ganesha temple. We scheduled it for April 23 (Chathurthi — an auspicious day for Lord Ganesha). I handwrote a letter to Lord Ganesha humbly requesting His grace and blessings in this undertaking because of the importance of this exam. Further, I was told by a priest that my horoscope during this time would not be good especially for studies. I confirmed this with other sources which verified the words of the priest. These sources are stated below.

2004 Tamil New Year prediction for my rasi (Kanya):

"Very difficult period for students. Hard work is essential to secure high marks. For those who want to study abroad, getting visa is very difficult."

New Year 2004 prediction for my rasi (Kanya):

May: Students need to concentrate hard.
June: Students more attention is required.


Having realized the importance of my exam and the planetary forces at work against me, I did the only thing that my mind could think of to come out victorious — I prayed to Lord Ganesha during the homam to remove any obstacles that would hinder my success in this forthcoming exam.

I also made it a vow to sing Thiru-Kolaru Pathigam (a Thevaaram hymn composed by the great saint Thiru-Nyaana-Sambanthar) every morning before starting my exam to beseech God Siva's blessings to protect me from any planetary influences.

Thirdly, I also made a vow to Lord Murugan to do daily japam of His sacred mantra and to come to temple and sing devotional songs for Him every friday.

I subsequently had a divine experience during this time. It's entitled, "Come and Sing for me."

Having beseeched the full blessings of my beloved SatGuru and his older brother, my mind was content that I could fall to no harm. However, the challenges came nevertheless but in retrospect I believe that they were attenuated in form, had I not prayed. What were these challenges? The first came in the form of my failing thyroid gland — it failed to produce sufficient thyroid hormone, such that I became hypothyroid and very lethargic. I was tired all the time. And all I wanted to do was sleep — even though I knew I could not afford to! My dear loved ones would argue with me that I wasn't spending enough time with them. Some even forgot that I had an exam and would unknowingly disturb me in the night by playing movies when I would retire early (9:00 pm) so that I could wake up early (6:00 am) the following morning to continue my study. In spite of these challenges, I continued my efforts in my study having full faith in my Lord Murugan, Ganesha, Siva, and Sakthi. I heeded to my schedule and adhered to it very closely.

My study commenced on May 1st and continued every day thru weekends — rain or shine — until my exam date on July 8th. My mother was superstitious and said that eight was an unlucky number and that I should try to change the date but I couldn't. I told my mother that I believed more in the Ganesha homam, Murugan's japam, and Siva-Sakthi's Thiru-Kolaru Pathigam than in horoscopes and numerology. But my mother was not convinced.

On July 6th, I left home to retire at a motel where I was staying to avoid any last minute distractions by my loved ones. This exam was far too important for me. I was already in $100,000 US in debt and I needed to do well on this exam. So, I went to the Murugan temple and prayed to my SatGuru for His blessings to do well on the exam. I then rented a car and left to the motel.

On July 7th, I was doing some questions throughout the day. In the evening, at 6:59 pm I said a little prayer,"Lord Muruga! Tomorrow is the big exam which You already know that I have been preparing for. All the effort and hard work over the past 23 months will be questioned by tomorrow's exam. Could you kindly show me a sign that You will be with me during the day of the exam, helping me to answer those questions? Please my Lord...can you kindly show me your presence like you did when I first began studying medicine? [See list of experiences below]"

Sample list of personal experiences I had while I studied medicine:

-Come and sing for Murugan
-Doubt not
-He is with me
-I am alive
-I am always with you
-I am with you
-Kanthar Sashti blessings
-Know I am with you
-My blessings are ever with you
-naatha vinthu kalaathee namO Nama
-Remember and believe
-TFTD 143
-Victory! Victory! Victory!
-You have returned my son
-You were always there

As I reflected on all the above experiences, I cried tears of gratitude for all the help that Lord Murugan had graciously given me. I knew in my heart that no matter what the outcome, I would not have made it this far without His love, protection, and grace!

I then retired for the evening. The next morning, July 8, I woke up early for my exam. I hoped for a sign from Lord Murugan but did not have a dream or vision. But His message to me came in the form of a phone message that was left by my mother. She said that she had seen a rainbow around 7pm — shortly after I had said my prayer to Lord Murugan! (Recall above my prayer on July 7th at 6:59pm!) He had heard my prayer and had responded instantly! But it was I who did not go outside or answer the phone when it rang that evening since I did not want to have any distractions. Nevertheless, I had received this message before I had left for the exam and was now 100% confident that Lord Skanda was with me. It was such a wonderful and heart-warming experience to have received this message at such a critical time right before I took my exam, because I was able to better focus on the questions rather than allow half of my mind to focus on self-doubt!

I arrived at the testing center with plenty of time to spare. My exam was to start at 9am but I arrived at 7:45am. I kept saying Sri Skanda's sacred mantra to keep myself calm and confident. The exam proctor took a picture of me and then led me into the examination room. There were small cubicles with computers in each one. There were approximately 30 computer workstations. The lady took me to a corner and said, "Here this one will suit you perfectly. It is quiet and in a corner." When I sat down, I noted a big sign from Lord Skanda. The number of the workstation was 6! This big six was posted on my computer and was just staring at me! I smiled and was even more at ease knowing for sure that Lord Skanda (Aarumuga-Swami — the six-faced God) was with me. All the tension, nervousness, etc. had fled and I was so focussed on the exam that I was able to proceed through the exam without any significant difficulty. I had finished the exam with 1 hour and 15 minutes to spare! I hoped that I was not overconfident but I just could not stand to stay at that testing center any longer. I wanted to finish the exam and let out a big sigh of relief! Which I did at 4pm, when I walked out of the exam center. I took a big breath and exhaled,"Skanda." I thanked my benevolent Lord for His assistance through the exam and drove home — relieved.

On August 11th, 2004, after 5 weeks, I received my results in the mail. I refrained from opening it immediately, even though my curiosity was at its peak! Instead, I went to worship my SatGuru — Sri Skanda at our local Murugan temple. I offered the unopened envelope at the feet of Lord Murugan, to obtain His blessing. In my heart I prayed, "Dear Skanda...At your lotus feet are the results of the USMLE Step I. As my Guru, I only thought it was appropriate for you to first see the results of my exam. I will accept whatever score that appears as the result of my effors and your blessings. I only pray that I do not disappoint you and myself."

After the puja, the priest handed me the envelope containing the results of my exam from Sri Skanda's feet. I took a deep breath in and said, "Murugaa..." and opened the envelope. I read the results:

-SCORE (out of 99): 95

I then turned to my mom and showed her my results. I was thrilled and my heart was overjoyed on the results. On my way home, at the top of my voice I screamed:

"Hail Skanda! Hail Jyoti!"

I was sooooooooooooo ecstatic and I realized that this high score meant that a lot of opportunities now became available to me. I was now able to participate in competitive specialities in medicine such as: dermatology, plastic surgery, and cardiology. I thanked Sri Skanda, Lord Ganesha, Lord Siva and Sakthi for their grace and help during this very important point in my career.