“Who Am I? Another Day. Another Destiny…”

“We are who we are.” I hear that phrase all the time, but in its simplicity is the complex mystery of our identity. That phrase says so much but yet nothing at all if “who we are” is not clear to others or even to ourselves. Who am I? And, I’m not only referring to Jean Valjean…I decided to write out some basics about myself:

KEY TOLU IDENTIFIERS 

  • Christ-follower
  • Nigerian – American – British all at once
  • Black
  • Woman
  • Daughter
  • Sister
  • Medical student
  • Cellist
  • Reader
  • Writer
  • Jane Austen, Star Wars, and Rocky Fan
  • Lover of carrot, cheese, and red velvet cakes
  • Give me mangos, avocados, and cranberries…
  • the list goes on…

As many people age, who “we are” becomes more and more wrapped up in our profession, and over the past two weeks, I spent more time thinking about my identity than the usual. I have thought deeply about what it means to be a doctor and the role of the physician or aspiring physician in the world surrounding us.

I believe that now is a good a time as any to think deeply about who we are, and what we stand for. And you know, what? Time-management is the biggest indicator of who we are, I think! What we spend our precious time doing speaks volumes about who we are. With each post, I tell you about my little adventures as a medical student, but in reality, I just keep on repeating myself in different ways. I am declaring to you and showing you, just who I am.

Week 22 & 23

December 1 – 13, 2014

Week 22 : Back in the Swing

I will honestly spare you the details of how it feels to go from doing nothing for a week to back being in medical school. Not the most fun ever. The highlights of my week, however, were participating in Case’s “Check-out” sessions, finishing up my narrative medicine class, and anatomy camp!

“Check-out” sessions are parts of the Case interview days when minority students or student interested in serving/being a part of minority-focused community at Case hang out with me, Christa, Avia and other medical students in SNMA/LMSA and ask us anything they want about Case. At this point in the cycle, interview days are getting more and more loaded with applicants, and we are also seeing more applicants of color.

I really love check-out because it gives me the opportunity to reflect on why I chose to come to Case as well as share that information with applicants. In addition, it gives me the privilege of hearing older medical students share their perspectives on the learning environment. We seek to make the environment extremely relaxed and friendly, and it is nice to see the applicants be a bit at ease when they come to see us. Medical students have the tendancy to “check-out” of non-required activities as things get busier, but I am always encouraged when fellow medical students come out to check out sessions. It lets the applicants know that we value them and value each other.

A check-out session
A check-out session

Narrative Medicine is now over, but its spirit will live on! As cheesy as that sounded, it is incredibly true. For our last class, we shared short stories regarding a patient with a chronic illness. My story was entitled Drug Addict, which is a story about a woman with SCD (of course, I know) who comes to the ER at night and is presumed to be a “drug addict” instead of being “drug dependent.” Excerpt:

30 years ago, I probably would not have been able to grow up to be a 25-year-old “drug addict.” But, now more of us were making it to adulthood–adults reliant on painkillers and the bane of ER interns everywhere.

“Well, I have refilled your prescription, and am going to refer you to our pain clinic. I recommend that you go. Do you have any questions?”

Do I have questions?

“Actually, I do.” She put down her outstretched arm for the closing handshake.

“How can I help you?”

“Why are you giving me a prescription?”

“Because you are asking for pain medication, Ms. Williams.”

“Why do I need it?”

“Because sickle cell is known to cause bone crises.”

“Can’t you give me something to make it stop? To fix it?”

“We have hydroxyurea, a drug that can help. But no.”

“Am I fascinating to you?”

Her brows furrowed. I knew I had derailed her. “Ms. Williams, I do not know what you mean.”

“When you read my chart, are you intrigued to hear my story? To heal me? To fix me? I am no longer fascinating am I? We are no longer interesting. You don’t know what to do with me, do you?”

My narrative medicine class was filled with excellent writers, and I really wish I could hear more short stories from medical students in this way. The class is now over. The honor it is to have the trust of others has always been important to me, and this rapport with a patient grows when we take the time to listen and respect the patient narrative. I know that this class has been an important way for us to reflect on the narrative-centered values that brought us to the classroom.

Anatomy Camp is an outreach program in which medical students teach a little anatomy to middle and high schoolers from Cleveland. It usually involves taking out livers from containers and lungs (normal v smoker’s) and having the kids touch them and say, “Eww!” or “Cool!!” It has been almost 10 years since I started high school even though it honestly doesn’t seem that far in the distance. My group of middle schoolers was RAMBUNCTIOUS. They were sooo talkative. One introduced himself as “Barack Obama” and proceeded to impersonate him for all of the sessions. So silly! One of the funnier parts was when the kids asked, “Are you in college?” “No. I’m in medical school now. I already did college.” “Wait, medical school is AFTER college?” “Haha, yes. Yes it is.” Some of their eyes actually widened in wonder. College seems so far away to some of them. If only they new, that time flies faster than you might think…

Then things got really interesting…here is when I get back to identity.

I did not come into medical school expecting to be “an activist” in the way you may imagine one. But, maybe I have always been one in the lose sense of the word — a person who campaigns for some kind of social change. In my experience, people become physicians because the world is imperfect, and we are dissatisfied with that imperfection. We seek to be ACTIVE, intervening when sickness takes hold of our patients, but should that interest be confined to the hospital?

To self-limit in this case, is to be small-minded about what it means to be a physician. That is why, I serve as diversity chair for my class, keep playing my cello, try to give back to my community or do research. Studying 24 hours a day just is not an accurate reflection of who I am as a person. I am a firm believer that whatever I need to learn to be an EXCELLENT physician cannot only be found in a textbook or powerpoint slide.

On December 3, a Wednesday afternoon, I learned that there was to be a vigil in memorial of those who had died due to police brutality. I was not involved in the planning of the university-wide event. But, as diversity chair I saw it within my role to forward the flyer with the information concerning the event to my peers. That evening I was disturbed to receive a very angry email from a fellow medical student. In it, he accused me of being “unprofessional and irresponsible” for forwarding the flyer regarding the vigil. He thought that the words, “police brutality” were “deeply offensive,” “slanderous” and “divisive.” He requested that I publicly apologize for sending the email and change the name of the event I did not even organize.

This shook me and ruined my day.

An entire community of Americans is in turmoil, and he is offended?

I made damn sure that I attended that vigil.

Photo credit: Ki Oh of Keypoint Photography Paige, myself and Yang
Photo credit: Ki Oh of Keypoint Photography
Paige, myself and Yang

Even though his words wanted to silence and control the grief of others, it really lit a fire in me. I met with my society dean to discuss the email the next day, and he advised me to also meet with the Associate Vice President of Student Affairs. The VP was proud of my written response to the student but also made me think deeper about the situation.

  1. How can this situation benefit at least one person?
  2. How can other underrepresented minorities navigate situations like this in the future?
  3. How can other students in this school of medicine be more aware of the current social climate in our country/cultivate a spirit of cultural humility when interfacing with people of differing backgrounds/perspectives?

This was food for thought, and over the weekend I tried to think of less difficult, peaceful things like Anne of Green Gables. I hosted a showing for some friends. It was quite glorious. Gilbert Blythe ruins all other men.

Emily is REALLY excited for Anne of Green Gables and has a fabulous hair-do
Emily is REALLY excited for Anne of Green Gables and has a fabulous hair-do
Yiwen is also a fan
Yiwen is also a fan

On Sunday, CarolFest happened at the Church of the Covenant! Christmas carols, organs, what’s not to like? We had 3 hours of rehearsal the day of the concert, but it was a lot of fun. The lovely Aaida was also in attendance.

Week 23: Doc Opera and the Die-In

HOLY COW DOC OPERA TECH WEEK TAKES OVER YOUR LIFE. But, it is so much fun! I thought the week could not get any busier before fellow M1, Vanessa, inspired many of us with an idea taking hold of medical schools all over the country – a “die-in.”

Apparently, I was not the only medical student in America pondering over what my role could be or what medical students should do about the structural racism in our country. Die-in demonstrations had happened with many people all over the nation but not particularly with medical students and on Wednesday, December 10, it was decided that, that would be the day when medical students would stand up and speak out against the racism in our white coats. 

I was not surprised that there would be resistance to this idea, but I was surprised more so for the reasons why some students spoke up against it. The chief reason was an issue of professionalism. The wearing of the white coat during such a demonstration could “cheapen” it and all it stands for. The deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Tanesha Anderson, Eric Garner and countless others was a “political” problem — not an issue medicine should be involved in.

Wow.

Now is not the time to be lukewarm, so I appreciate the honesty and courage it took for my fellow students to share their opinions. In fact, I appreciate that more than those who were deliberately silent on the topic. However, I am still wrapping my mind around how speaking out against social injustices cheapens the pure, white coat we have across our backs–our coats that to many cultivate distrust and represent cold, callous hearts of those wearing them.

How many times have doctors done horrible things to patients wearing white coats? How many times have doctors under-prescribed analgesics for blacks and hispanics because they assumed their patients were drug seeking? To ignore the impacts of bias in the practice of medicine and in the world cheapens our profession because bias truly gets in the way of properly being a physician–in a word, a “professional.” 

I never had planned a “demonstration” like a die-in before. And, it was undoubtedly a team effort! Media outlets were contacted, police phoned, faculty alerted and so on…I did not know what to expect as there was some backlash from the event. Although, I was disappointed with the opinions or lack of shared opinions of many of my classmates, I was equally inspired by even more of them as well as faculty. I appreciated students who came to our planning sessions of the Die-in with questions-students who wanted to dialogue instead of making bold or hurtful statements behind a computer screen.

Planning the speeches
Planning the speeches
Day of the Die-In
Day of the Die-In
Poster making
Poster making

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The day of the event, we also decided to have a student read from our Oath of Professionalism from our White Coat Ceremony because many of its words showcased our role in the community as well as within the hospital.

To our COMMUNITY:
We promise to be your ADVOCATES and ALLIES, honoring human agency and DIGNITY. We appreciate the social and personal identities of all people, and the BARRIERS that may accompany them. We commit ourselves to OVERCOMING these INJUSTICES. We pledge to LEAD INSIDE and OUTSIDE the hospital walls, providing EQUAL and SUSTAINABLE care for all.

We will practice and propel the art and science of medicine. Our role as healers begins NOW.

How can some of us who recited this be unwilling to voice our disgust over the death of Eric Garner or acknowledge the profound issues of racial differences plaguing our country? I do not want to go too far in voicing my disappointment, but I will say this: What we do and say illustrates just as much about us as what we DO NOT say or DO NOT do.

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” – Albert Einstein

At 3 PM on Wednesday, the Die-In began, and when I stepped outside, there were over 70 people in the courtyard when we were expecting maybe 30. Students, faculty, staff-members and some of their children joined us for the die-in. Two of my deans even came, and one laid down with us. How could so many professionals come together to do something so “unprofessional?”

At the end of the demonstration, I spoke to a reporter with other students and he also wrote about the day. He was not completely accurate in writing about our motivations–even though we were outraged with the judicial verdicts, the main purpose of the event was not to protest them. It was to raise awareness of the structural racism within our profession and within society that permitted these jury decision to even arise. It was to state that, “homicide” is indeed a “public health concern.”

Black students, faculty and staff. Two deans--one of the medical school and one of the university are pictured.  Photo credit: A. Sharma
Black students, faculty and staff. Two deans–one of the medical school and one of the university are pictured.
Photo credit: A. Sharma
Most of those in attendance.  Photo credit: Ki Oh of Keypoint Photograph
Most of those in attendance.
Photo credit: Ki Oh of Keypoint Photography
Shots from the Die-In. Photo credit: Ki Oh of Keypoint Photography
Shots from the Die-In. Photo credit: Ki Oh of Keypoint Photography

At the end of the day, we were a part of a larger movement. But, my hope is that the activism for social change does not end here. My hope is that we can continue to have conversations about the die-in and anything else. My hope is that those who were silent or those who were brave enough to say how they feel can come together and truly speak to one another and grow.

Additionally, the incident with the medical student’s email  led to me invited by the V.P of student affairs to serve in the Bias Incident Response Program at Case Western Reserve University. This allows me to help other students who may have to deal with incidents similar to mine.

After the die-in, I was filled with a sense of, “What next?” as well as “AH DOC OPERA!!” And in the words of Hannibal from the ATEAM, “I love it when a plan comes together.”  Participating in the show helped me also heal from a lot of disappointment I felt in the past week. I was in a dance as well as played my cello in the pit, and the band was so much fun! The dance also came together just when we needed it to!

View from the stage!
View from the stage!
The Iron Throne!
The Iron Throne! The Show was called, “A Song of Bugs and Drugs.”
View from the seats!
View from the seats!
Pano!
Pano!
The Strings of the Doc Opera Band
The Strings of the Doc Opera Band

Ify got me to go out to the afterparty, and I had a great time! Woke up at 10 to do MCQs…worst idea ever, slept a large chunk of the day, went out to a global health event, “A Night of Solidarity with West Africa.” It was a fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders who will be working with those sick with Ebola. I found the night very wonderful as well as important to attend so that I could also support the students and faculty who had supported me and the others who planned the die-in earlier on in the week.

There was a truly touching moment when a physician told me, Avia and Christa to keep on speaking up against the social injustices in our nation especially when others within my future profession will verbally or nonverbally tell us there is “no place for it.” She had been involved in global health initiatives for 20 years, and was so proud of the “M1 class for its activism.” It means so much to have the support of many physician faculty.

Avia and I won some Liberian scarves from the raffle!
Avia and I won some Liberian scarves from the raffle!

So, who am I?

I hope I have made that somewhat clear.

Do you?

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