A Year and a Half in Review

It’s been awhile. For Foundations of Clinical Medicine, the “reflection/humanistic” part of our curriculum we are supposed to reflect on how we have changed over the past year. Here is my reflection and in it, a few updates on me! Dedicated readers/people who know me well already know a lot of this but this is a way for me to bring it all together as I about 4 weeks left of my pre-clinical curriculum.

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The two days before my first day of medical school, I posted the following status on Facebook:

“I’m feeling like Bilbo Baggins in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ve embarked on a journey and know that in the end, I won’t quite be the same but will have a story to tell!”

The story is unfinished, but as I look back, I think the words that I said mean more than I could have ever imagined. No one is the same at the beginning of a great journey as they are at the end of it. And, this has been a great journey. During this time, I have engaged in more social activism, dove more into research, grew more comfortable speaking to patients and started a new program for children with sickle cell disease.

Becoming a diversity affairs representative became more than a job for me than I anticipated. Through the White Coat Die Ins, as well as the initiatives of the Diversity Focus Group, I realized the importance of not only agreeing with the ideologies of those who fight social injustice. As a medical student and a future physician, I have the power to be more than a spectator. Moreover, as a human beings we a voice that can be used to advocate for those who do not have one or have been marginalized. It’s been at times a burden and most times a privilege to have served at in that role.

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Sickle cell disease has been both a personal and academic interest of mine for many years. During undergrad, I worked in a wet lab, and began to understand the basic principles of erythropoiesis and stem cell biology. This incredible experience furthered my desire to impact the lives of those with SCD through medicine, social outreach and research. Upon my arrival in Cleveland for medical school, I searched for more ways to engage in hematological research from varying perspectives.

A crisis can often be sudden and unexpected for both patients and providers. As a child, I never knew when my siblings would get sick, and a lot of the time you experience this helplessness of never knowing if this cold weather, that stressful event, or that meal would trigger a bone crisis. The unpredictability of a crisis is almost mystical. It is no wonder many Igbos (Nigerian ethnic group) would think that children who died from sickle cell were obanjes, children “who would come and go” in an unworldly way. Therefore, I was excited to begin working with Dr. Jane Little, an associate professor and Director of the Adult Sickle Cell program at CWRU, and Dr. Umut Gurkan, leader of the Case Biomanufacturing and Microfabrication Laboratory because their work focuses on the use of cost-effective and novel biomedical devices in the surveillance and detection of SCD. The surveillance of sickle cell disease is an exciting area that I truly enjoy studying, because its goal is to better monitor a patient’s unique disease. I was even able to present some of my research at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting. Over the past year and a half, I have realized once more how much I want research to be a part of my life and career as a physician. Because of this, I am applying for a year-long research fellowship in Boston for next year. The thought of taking an entire year to do research would have been ludicrous to straight-out-of-college-by-the-“book”-Tolu on the first day of medical school, but through the encouragement of my research mentors, family and my own personal experiences, I have been able to better open myself to new and exciting possibilities outside my five-year plan.

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Through the Case Western’s Urban Health Pathway, I have developed the “Sickle Cell Buddy Program” at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. Though this mentorship program, I aim to both see relationships built between medical students and chronically transfused patients, as well as study the impact of these relationships on how these children view their healthcare experiences. I wanted to use my position as a medical student passionate about SCD to do something positive for the children who have to come to the hospital so often. I also wanted to provide an opportunity for other medical students to learn more about this condition and develop even more compassion for these kids. Even with this goal in mind, I did not know how powerful my first experience with my buddy would be.

My buddy is a 13 year old boy with blonde dreadlocks, tan skin, hazel eyes and a shiny, jewel-studded watch one of his older brothers gave to him. That brother used to take him to these appointments, but had died recently as a result of gun violence. In fact, it had been an accident. Interestingly, I had learned of that brother months before during CPCP with Dr. Little as my preceptor. That summer I met my buddy’s other older brother with sickle cell, who was visibly still distraught from the event. So, in the space of six months I have met both sides of one family impacted with sickle cell and other tragedies in the same hospital. When I went to meet my buddy, a great kid, I noticed he was watching Big Hero 6, a Disney movie about a boy who grieves the loss of his older brother as well. The situation was so uncanny and so powerful. These patient experiences really showcase the unique and awesome position it is to be a healthcare-provider-in-training. In helping patients to be well, we learn about the most intimate, powerful and painful experiences of their lives. I’ve also been able to learn more about the critical roles social workers, child life specialists and nurses play in these settings! Thank goodness doctors don’t have to do this alone.

From day one at Case until now, I have grown into a more socially active, academic and patient-focused person. I truly hope that I can grow much more in these ways so that I can one day become the doctor I need to be and so like Bilbo Baggins, I will have an even greater story to tell.

 

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