JIPMER PG topper interview: Dr. Fen Saj, 5th Rank, November 2015

Dr. Fen Saj - JIPMER entrance topperDr. Fen Saj – JIPMER PG entrance topper

PG Blazer: Congratulations on securing a top rank in the JIPMER PG entrance exam! What is the secret of your success?
Dr. Fen Saj: Hi everyone. Thanks. There is no secret as such. Everyone gets almost the same amount of time and reads the same textbooks and guides. All of us compete from the same plane. IQ and big brains are not what one needs, but consistent focused hard work. Hard work never ever goes unpaid! The never give up attitude and God’s grace worked for me.

PG Blazer: Could you tell us something about yourself?
Dr. Fen Saj: My name is Fen, am from Trivandrum and did my schooling in SNHSS and Christ Nagar schools. I was 9th rank holder in the SSLC 10th boards and 7th rank holder in the 12th HSE. I was fortunate to be one among the 10 students selected from all over India for the National Biotechnology scholarship and received the gold medal from Shri. Kapil Sibal, then the cabinet minister for science and technology. I joined CMC Vellore for my MBBS. I never really wanted to become a doctor, had always dreamed of joining the IAS. I didn’t have PG Entrances in mind and used to study just to clear the MBBS exams. However, I managed to get an aggregate of 70% with first certificates of honour in Obs and Gynae (84%), Ophthalmology (82%), Medicine, Pediatrics, Pathology & Pharmacology (76%). My hobbies include playing the guitar, harmonium, sketching, quizzing, photography etc.

PG Blazer: Who or what influenced you to take up Medicine as a career?
Dr. Fen Saj: I was more or less ambivalent during my 12th grade and joined MBBS on persuasion of my parents, just for the sake of a degree before I give the UPSC exams. I started loving medicine only when I began to work independently after internship. I don’t regret it even a bit now and I believe this is the best profession which fits my personality.

PG Blazer: What were your aggregate percentage marks for MBBS?
Dr. Fen Saj: 70%

PG Blazer: How did you prepare during your internship period?
Dr. Fen Saj: Internship in CMC is like military training! They say if you can push yourself through the CMC internship, you can work in any situation, anywhere in the world! The usual day starts by about 6 in the morning and goes on till 12-1 at night. Forget studies, my breakfast during those days used to be Pantop 40mg! 🙂 Even during minor postings, we hardly get 5 hours of sleep. But the good part was getting to do lots and lots of BM biopsies, lumbar punctures, central line insertions (I did 19!), appendicectomies, minor amputations, forceps-suction cup deliveries, sebaceous cyst and lipoma excisions etc. I would like to add that CMC admits around 15-20 students from outside colleges every year for internship and if you are really interested to learn skills, you can apply for it.

PG Blazer: Which were the various entrance exams you wrote in this session? What were the ranks you obtained?
Dr. Fen Saj: I wrote AIIMS (rank 146), PGI (rank 8), JIPMER (rank 5).

PG Blazer: What changes did you make to your preparation after your last attempt?
Dr. Fen Saj: Well, I will tell you what exactly I went through. All the graduates from CMC have to do compulsory service obligation for 2 years (which cannot be paid off!) and I finished mine 3 months before the 2014 exams. I was preparing for the UPSC exams from the second year and by the time I finished MBBS, I had a complete set of notes for the prelims and mains.

Many things changed when I started doing my bond. It was a small hospital in Kerala which used to cater to a very marginalised and impoverished local community. The work was kinda hectic with alternate day night duties, seeing about 100+ patients in the OPD daily. Eventually I fell in love with the work and gradually realised being a doctor is indeed very rewarding. I also spoke to a few people who were in the administrative services then and to my surprise, all of them discouraged me from quitting medicine. I finally made up my mind and without even giving a shot at the UPSC exams, started preparing for the PG Entrances. Quite dumb, I know! 🙂

I got 3-4 months before the 2014 exams and I realised I won’t be able to do subjectwise studies in such a short while. So I read one volume each of Amit Ashish AIIMS and Mudit Khanna AIPGMEE previous questions with the explanations. I also read DNB Kalam 2 volumes. These were my ranks in the 2014 entrances. AIIMS-76, PGI-did not appear, JIPMER-216, KERALA PG-71, AIPGMEE-2400, DNB-511.

I chose ophthalmology at AIIMS and worked there for 5 months. I initially liked it a lot and so didn’t attend any other counseling. The ophthal dept there is world class and residents get excellent hands on experience. But gradually, I found opthal too specialized for me and had always preferred a more ‘action filled’ and dynamic specialty like medicine or surgery. Also there was this feeling in the back of my mind that if I had prepared a little more, maybe I could have fared better. So I quit the AIIMS in May and wrote the May 2015 exams. AIIMS-183, PGI-206, JIPMER-192.

After that I joined the TMCAA classes at Thrissur, bought the subject guides and started preparing seriously for the entrances. I had a subject wise approach, used to make notes and managed to finish most of the subject wise guides by mid-September. I gave 2 revisions before November.

PG Blazer: When did you start serious preparation for this year’s entrance exam?
Dr. Fen Saj: I had read the volumes before Nov last year and subject wise guides from May 2015 after I came back from AIIMS.

PG Blazer: What was your study strategy?
Dr. Fen Saj: Indian PG entrance scenario is probably the most competitive and toughest of its kind in the world.

1. Attending a good coaching institution is highly recommended as the faculty are the best in their respective specialties and are updated to the current trends in the exams. They help to clarify the concepts and the controversial questions.

2. Try to make good notes from the classes and keep adding extra points to them while reading the MCQ books.

3. Reading cover to cover of all the subject wise guides and completing the entire syllabus is neither humanly possible nor necessary.

4. Most important aspect is the revision where we consolidate all the knowledge and make it easy to recall. During our preps, we add loads of info to our hard disk, but it is useless if it is inaccessible to our RAM during the exam. The amount you read doesn’t matter, the amount you recall does! So dedicate the last 2 months solely for revision so that things are at your fingertips. That is possible only by repeated reading.

5. Don’t make the mistake of reading text books if you are left with just 9-10 months! Reading MCQ books thoroughly and revising itself will take that much time. AIIMS often asks questions from selected areas which can be read from post graduate text books if you are aiming to be in the top 10. For most of the folks who are targeting NEET or state PG or even PGI, spending precious time reading textbooks is not at all worth it.

6. Don’t take all the toppers’ advice blindly. 🙂 This is a mistake most people make. Most of the toppers would have started reading MCQ books right from their first year. Many might be gold medalists. By the time we start our preparation, some of them would have already made proper notes and started revision. Each one’s situation is different, abilities are different. So the plan and approach should also be custom made. One size doesnot fit all! After cracking the entrances, many will also claim that they read Harrison 6 times and Park 4 times! Ha! Dont care!!

Did you make any notes for helping with your revision? Were they useful?
Yes, Indeed! Our main aim in the initial months should be to prepare material that we will be reading in the last 2months. In those 2months, aim is also to find out what we will read in the last 2 weeks. It can be highlighted in guides or consolidated as small notes. I went with the latter as I found revising from the huge mcq guides scary! Needless to say, I wouldn’t have achieved what I did, if I didn’t have those self made notes. They save you when the tension starts mounting.

PG Blazer: In your opinion, how much time does a student require for preparing for this exam?
Dr. Fen Saj: Most candidates start attending classes right from their third year. If you haven’t, 8-12 months of serious preparation is good enough. The years spent in college are our best days and life gets a little boring as years roll by as we advance in our careers. So don’t miss out on the fun.

PG Blazer: How many hours did you study each day?
Dr. Fen Saj: I used to read for 10 hours in the beginning and 12-14 hours in the last 2 months. Remember quality matters, not quantity.

PG Blazer: Did you have a timetable for preparation? Were you able to stick to it?
Dr. Fen Saj: Like everyone, even I had made a time table. Not always could I stick to my deadlines. Make sure your time table is slightly above your maximum achievable limit. It will keep you unsatisfied and motivate you to keep pushing yourself harder.

PG Blazer: What role did the internet play in your preparation?
Dr. Fen Saj: The beauty of medicine is that we’re not studying about imaginary literary characters or about random events which happened in 500 BC. Everything happens right in front of us, within us! Let it be pathology or radiology, it makes a hell of a difference when we learn by seeing the images as opposed to simply mugging up facts. I was off facebook and social networking for months, however.

PG Blazer: Did you ever doubt your ability to get selected in this entrance exam? If so, how did you overcome your fears?
Dr. Fen Saj: PG Entrance preparation times are probably the toughest times of everyone’s career. Even I went through really difficult days, especially when I was back to nothing and started preparing all over again. But don’t lose heart. Have one or two great friends to whom you can share anything and everything. Doctors are expected to be strong in stressful situations and think of these months as God’s way of making you a better doctor who can deal with any difficult situation. Trust me, at the end of these many months of hardship, you will surely become a better person, both professionally and personally. The one who holds his nerve till the end, wins! 🙂

PG Blazer: Did you attend any classroom coaching? Was it useful? Do you think classroom coaching is essential for getting a good rank?
Dr. Fen Saj: Entrance coaching has become such a lucrative business that most of the institutes spread this propaganda that you are doomed if you don’t attend any classes. That is not at all true! I know so many friends who were kinda focused from the early MBBS years and sailed through the entrances without any coaching. But as most of us would have been loafing around all throughout and are then faced with the tough task of finishing 5 years’ syllabus in 8-9 months, attending a good institute becomes helpful.

I attended the TMCAA classes and there are some brilliant and highly dedicated teachers there! Undoubtedly, I owe all my success to them. People hardly know about this institute as they don’t advertise. They have consistently produced top ten rankers in the past. The application forms for the programme are out in December and 2000+ seats get filled in a matter of 15-20 days! Weekend classes and highly competitive atmosphere.

Another point to keep in mind is that the subject wise guides are often written by authors who are no way related to that particular subject. Treatment protocols have to be very clear in every subject, as they form the platform for questions in the recent pattern. For eg: When to intervene in ROP, how to manage choledocholithiasis, post-op anastomotic leak etc. These would be best explained in a stepwise manner by a consultant who manages these cases everyday.

PG Blazer: Did you attend any test series? If so, did you find it useful?
Dr. Fen Saj: At TMCAA, we had a subjectwise and grand test every week. I had also attended the AdrPlexus and Bhatia test series. As the test is attended by many of the serious aspirants across the country, it helped me gauge my performance and make necessary improvements in the areas I was weak at. The people who consistently rank in top 100 in those tests will usually find themselves in the real lists as well!

PG Blazer: What were the subjects you focused upon?
Dr. Fen Saj: The 7 most important subjects are Medicine, Surgery, OBG, Paeds, Micro, Path, Pharm, SPM which comprise more than 65% of any paper. AIIMS gives more emphasis to SPM, forensic and ophthal. PGI gives for Biochemistry and Immunology. Some people say OBG and Micro are not very important for AIIMS, but if you see May-Nov 15 papers, you will realize ignoring those would have been suicidal! Any ignored subject will remain as a constant phobia and nightmare. Make sure you read atleast the most important topics even in short subjects.

PG Blazer: Which books did you read for theory?
Dr. Fen Saj: I read these ONLY during my UG days and never touched them there after.
Anatomy – BDC, Physiology  -Guyton, Biochemistry – Vasudevan, Microbiology – Panicker, Pathology – Robbins, Pharmacology – KDT, Forensic – Reddy, Ophthal – Khurana, ENT – Dhingra, PSM – Park, Medicine – George Mathew, Surgery – SRB, OBG – Sheila B and Lakshmi Seshadri (our prof!), Paeds – Ghai, Ortho – Maheswari, For anesthesia, dermatology etc. I read only the lecture notes and printed material they gave us in CMC.

PG Blazer: What was your approach to Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine?
Dr. Fen Saj: I have never read Harrison as such and never understood why one has to, if he is left with just 10-12 months. You may do that while you are a third year in med school. The important areas and tables from Harrison are copied word-by-word in any subject wise mcq book you take. The medicine teachers in any institute will be basing their classes on the recent Harrison. So in my opinion, reading those notes and excerpts is a better and time-efficient idea.

PG Blazer: Which books did you read for MCQ’s? Which ones were the most useful?
Dr. Fen Saj: Well if you ask me, on any day I would go with Arvind Arora guides. They are much better organised and revision-friendly than ACROSS. But unfortunately, that wisdom came late for me!

Anat, Physio – ACROSS + Dr. Arivuselvan’s notes
Biochem -Dr. Rebecca’s class notes and book (Highly recommended for PGI)
Micro-Rachna Chaurasia
Path, Pharm – Sparsh Gupta + (Dr. Sunil Kumar’s pharmac notes)
Forensic – ACROSS and class notes (Dr. GKP)
Ophthal – Across
ENT – Dr. Shibu George ENT (Highly Recommended for any entrance!!)
SPM-Vivek Jain (Stay updated in SPM as they always ask the most recent data and programmes)
Medicine – Class notes (Dr. Rakesh, Dr. Hari) + Mudit Khanna (Qns only)
Surgery – Class notes (Dr. Raveendran Menon) + Amit Ashish (Qns only)
OBG – Sakshi Arora
Paeds – Class notes (Dr. Kishore Warrier) + Arvind Arora
SARPO – Across and TMCAA Class notes

PG Blazer: Is there anything specific to keep in mind while preparing for AIIMS?
Dr. Fen Saj: Take it from me, If one has done his subjectwise studies and revision well, he will be able to crack any exam from the USMLE to state PG. So that needs to be our primary focus. Good subject knowledge is also very very important for NEET due to lack of any specific pattern as the question setters are from all over the country.

AIIMS often asks questions from some areas which could probably be that particular question setter’s research area of interest. For eg, we will always keep finding questions on Alzheimer’s disease, HOCM, nephrotic syndrome, retinal detachment, STDs, storage disorders, carbohydrate-lipid metabolism, molecular biology techniques, CNS pharmacology, Leprosy, Seizures and EEG, Neonatology etc.

In AIIMS there will always be some new and hifi questions. While I was an ophthal resident in AIIMS, I used to notice during rounds that consultants often go to great lengths teaching about their specific areas of interest like eye trauma or refractive surgeries. That is probably a reason why they keep asking about chuna injuries, types of tonometers and DSAEK-DALK etc. But forget those tough ones, no one is gonna answer them and no one expects us to. Our target should be those 130-150 questions which are ‘potentially answerable’. If we go wrong on those ones, we’re done! And many questions often revolve around some high yield areas. In the past they had asked where do you see antoni bodies. A few years later, this nov they ask about the types of antoni bodies. You will see many questions like this.

I would suggest this. Take the last 5 year question papers of all the 3 main institute exams and note down all the topics where the questions came from. Each subject will have some 30-40 such important areas and those should be crystal clear for us. The ones who crack the exams are not the ones who have studied everything, but those who studied smartly. I ranked 76 in AIIMS last year and all I had read was the theory of 5 year qns of AIIMS, AIPGMEE (not NEET) and DNB. Even this year my focus was only this. I had read most of the topics from subject wise guides prior to September, but never revised all of it. I made this list and kept on revising and made sure that I will not a get a single question wrong if asked from these areas.

By smart study, I mean that we must cover all the most important topics thoroughly, before sailing into the least explored territories. Also conceptual learning is preferred to by-hearting, especially in the institute exams. There are definitely things to mug up in medicine, but whatever needs to be understood, should be. Each time you finish reading a line, ask yourself whether you really grasped it or not. If you haven’t, don’t proceed any further till you really understand it. Over time, it will become a habit. It hurts like crazy when you go wrong on a simple topic you ‘presume’ to have read! Not that much, if the question sounded all Greek and Latin!

Often we see on these zillion websites and blogs that people post extremely difficult questions, tend to go after the minutest details and rare radiological signs and all that. They are good for timepass, but unlikely to be helpful in the long run.

PG Blazer: How did you tackle the PGIMER entrance exam?
Dr. Fen Saj: Time management, thorough subject knowledge and good presence of mind are the keys for cracking PGI entrance. Its an exam, where in my opinion, luck plays the least important rule (even though the popular perception is otherwise). If you have prepared well, you will surely crack PGI! The more tests you give, the better you become. Period. Remember in PGI, negatives are heavily punished. Please go through the prospectus and understand the valuation system properly. There are 1250 options and usually there will be 600-650 correct and wrong options. Try and limit your negatives to below 50. Mark only if you are more than 75% sure and DON’T take risks!! I marked only 2 options for most questions, except the ones I was dead sure. Ended up marking 450-470 options. Don’t think the correct options will compensate for the wrong ones if you take risks. See the math and you will realise the cumulative negatives can bring down your overall marks by a big amount.

Repeats are rare in PGI, but repeats are the ones which every single competitor will be right with. So one cannot miss out on those. Read one volume of Manoj Chaudhary. It also helps us to know the pattern, time constraints and important areas.

PG Blazer: How did you prepare for the JIPMER entrance exam?
Dr. Fen Saj: This November JIPMER was all about time management. I went with a very relaxed mind as the PGI results were out by then. The questions were very lengthy with a lot of unnecessary details deliberately put it. To crack such exams, we have to increase our reading pace and speed of solving mcqs. There are multiple websites and apps giving techniques and exercises to help you read faster, you can check ’em out when you’re very bored. Keep on solving hundreds of MCQs on a daily basis and eventually you will become so good that finishing 100-150 questions in an hour will just be a cakewalk.

PG Blazer: How did you prepare for the image based questions?
Dr. Fen Saj: No preps as such. One cannot prepare for it overnight. Always be on the lookout for ‘likely to be asked’ type pics. Pay attention to the classes, google when required and make a mental note each time you stumble upon such images.

PG Blazer: What was your strategy for revision on the day before the examination?
Dr. Fen Saj: Lets blame it on Murphy’s law, whatever I’ve read the day before exam has never come as a question! I kept revising my notes in the last 2-3weeks. The day before was dedicated for the volatile stuff like IPCs, important tables, microbiology mnemonics, DNB Kalam appendix etc.

PG Blazer: What was your strategy for taking the exam?
Dr. Fen Saj: I started from the beginning and went in the order.

Nothing is more important than those three hours at the exam hall. Our entire preparations are wasted if we panic and cannot keep our cool. I learned it the hard way. Like I told you I got 76 in Nov 14 AIIMS, but when I went better prepared for Nov 15 AIIMS, I was so tensed that I made so many stupid mistakes and my rank plunged to 146. Keep reassuring yourself that life doesn’t end with an entrance exam. Also please don’t compromise on your sleep and a good breakfast.

PG Blazer: How many questions did you attempt?
Dr. Fen Saj: AIIMS – 195
PGI – Around 235-240, marked 450-470 options
JIPMER – 238

PG Blazer: How many do you think you got correct?
Dr. Fen Saj: AIIMS – around 120-130
PGI – God knows!
JIPMER – May be 190-200 or so

PG Blazer: Which speciality are you interested in choosing and why?
Dr. Fen Saj: I have chosen MD Internal Medicine at PGI. I dream of becoming a clinical oncologist and want to practise in India. I find cancer care quite challenging, full of research opportunities and in dire need of skilled manpower. I love human physiology as a whole and hence don’t like being too specialised and being a single-organ-doctor.

Dr. Fen Saj - JIPMER entrance topper - quote

PG Blazer: What is your advice to future aspirants?
Dr. Fen Saj: Find out what speciality you would be most comfortable with. Don’t choose something because all the toppers are doing so, or because of the ‘wow’ factor or because of money and all that. Ask yourself what you would want to see yourself as, 15-20 years down the line. Specialities like cardiothoracic surgery were most sought after and radiology was wanted by none a few decades ago. Similarly demand, monetary benefits and comfort levels of specialties will keep changing over the years. Choose wisely as you will be stuck with it for the rest of your life. No speciality is inferior to the other. One might take MD Biochemistry and may even win the Nobel Prize!! 🙂 Every speciality offers ample opportunities. Find out what you are passionate about and don’t settle till you reach there! All the very best mates!

PG Blazer: Please give your comments / suggestions regarding PG Blazer.
Dr. Fen Saj: I used to keep reading the interviews here for tips and motivation. I consider myself fortunate and thank PG Blazer for this opportunity.

PG Blazer: That brings us to the conclusion of the interview. Best of luck for your future endeavours!

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