By Divya Francis
I couldn’t quite pinpoint exactly why I wanted to work in the medical field until relatively recently in my life. I made the decision to be a doctor when I grow up when I was about four years old, and it was mainly based off of some influence from my parents who are also in the medical field and an idealized vision of me curing the world of sickness. Subconsciously, my faith played a role as well. Though, this manifested in tandem with my wild imagination. I told myself I would become an astronaut doctor so I could fly sick people into outer space, cure them and have some zero-gravity fun, then bring them back down to Earth. My logic behind this was that if I went into outer space, the patient and I would be physically closer to God. He would help me cure them and give them a happy life after being sick. The ultimate healthcare experience!
Fast forward fifteen years later where I’m on the brink of applying to medical schools but with no better reason than the generic I-want-to-help-people mindset. I have to figure out why I want to go to medical school and to do that, I need to find a concrete reason for wanting to be a physician. While I now prefer to keep my faith and my future profession separate, being Catholic still plays a role in my decision. I do believe that the Lord has given me the privilege of having a place on this Earth, an able body and mind, and opportunities to educate myself to become someone that can help people. But that’s personal. I need a concrete answer for the pressing question, “Why medical school?” In trying to write endless versions of personal statements and wrestling reasons out of the everyday experiences of a pre-med student, I couldn’t get past the reason of an interest in science and wanting to help people.
This year was also the year I decided to join the DePaul chapter of Global Brigades. Global Brigades is a service organization that supports ethical volunteering abroad. We send groups of students on medical, dental, public health, water, engineering, business, and legal empowerment brigades to Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua, and Ghana to provide holistic aid to communities that ask for our assistance. We also aim to fight voluntourism practices with this holistic model. Every type of brigade goes to a community until the community is sustainable and independent, not just temporarily relieved. I chose to go on the medical/dental brigade to Panama this past December because I fully supported this mission, and I cannot stress enough how valuable of an experience it was.
While on the brigade, we traveled to two communities: La Ermita and Nueva Arenosa. Both communities asked for assistance in accessing medical and dental care, so we set up a temporary medical clinic, dental clinic, pharmacy, and education sessions called charlas for two days in each community. Us brigaders and healthcare professionals in Panama worked with the community members to empower them to gain access to the care they have difficulty finding. We set up clinics and pharmacy in school buildings. People of the community came in for triage on one side of a classroom, then moved to the other side for a medical consult with physicians, then moved to the classroom next door for dental care. The sound of kids singing the dental hygiene songs in charla floated through the windows. It was very enlightening to see how much we could all do with the little resources we had. The atmosphere felt simultaneously hopeful and intense because everyone in this space was there because they had an illness but knew that the community was so close to becoming fully sustainable.
After going on a brigade is when I had a definite idea of why I want to be a physician. I’ve decided that I want to go to medical school because it will train me to become a physician that uses her knowledge, privilege, and expertise for people that need it most. I don’t want to be a physician that only cares about the money and only sees patients a means to an end. I want to use the talents and resources God has given me to empower people to receive the medical care they deserve and I want to do so for those who don’t have a means of doing it alone. In the future, I’d like to be an OB-GYN (because access to women’s healthcare is a whole different story) and I hope to work with Global Brigades as an in-country physician or work with Doctors Without Borders.