I was seated on a bench in the garden, with two of my classmates. It had been raining for a few days now, and the ground under my famous brown shoes was slightly muddy, teeming with ants hard at work.The grass beneath my feet was green and soft, evidence of the power of water in giving life. The neatly trimmed hedges were lush and green, vibrant and gloriously rejoicing for being alive and healthy. Birds were chirping away in the trees surrounding us, even though it was evening and the sun was just about to hide itself for the next twelve hours. The air was fresh and clean, a rarity in a city bursting to the brim with cheap imported cars from countries that had long tired of the fuel-guzzling, air-polluting monsters of our age.
Group discussions have become the norm for many of us, especially now that we only have a few days to finals. This is my third exam preparation period in medical school. It is a period full of tension, as students frantically cram and attempt to understand long forgotten concepts that were briefly introduced months ago. For others, it is a chance to relax and quietly gloat, for their hard work during the year has given them an unassailable lead, and to hell with the rest. I have always entered the exam period feeling grossly inadequate, and have always emerged feeling knowledgeable and competent, if only for a little while. I have come to love the pressure that comes from having a series of papers determine the outcome of your school life. It is unfortunate that each of my exam preparation periods have had outside pressures and conflicts hanging over them like the sword of Damocles, but that is how life is, and it wouldn’t be fair to whine about it.
It was while contemplating all of this and taking in the beauty of my surroundings that I spotted one of my lecturers, expertly clad in clothes that assured you she was living her dream life. What instantly struck me was the number of bags hanging from her shoulders. I could count three, and they did not seem to be as light as I would have preferred them to be. It wasn’t the first time that I had seen lecturers, professors and doctors walking with all manner of bags hanging from their shoulders.
She climbed down the stairs from her office (situated next to the garden), and as she made her way to the car park, my eyes were quietly observing the way she looked at other discussion groups nestled in other parts of the lush vegetation. I wondered if she felt sorry for us, or if she was impressed by our dedication to our books. I wondered if she felt a twinge of regret for being here at this hour of the day, carrying huge bags and probably going to some other job before heading home. I had already disconnected from my group discussion at this point 🙂
Even as I tried to put myself in her shoes, and as the debate raged on in my mind, I was acutely aware of the fact that maybe she was perfectly happy doing what she was doing, and it would be wrong to assume that just because I had seen possibilities in other fields, that meant that everyone else was doing the wrong thing. There are people who have read my blog posts and others who have heard me speak passionately about enterprise and have come to the conclusion that I sorely regret selling my soul to the harsh reality that is medicine in a less developed country. However, they could not be further from the truth.
It is during this exam period, when I have no choice other than to sit down and read that I have rediscovered the passion and interest that led me to this place of learning. While I have had a huge mental shift in the past three years, my motivations and reasons for wanting to be knowledgeable in the art of healing have not changed. Rather, it is the scope of my imagination and thinking that have been radically altered. There is more to medicine than just walking around in a hospital ward, fixing IV lines, calculating dosages and scribbling patient histories to present to the consultant during the ward round. These things are definitely important, and I do not refute that fact. However, there are many other roads that will still lead to Rome.
There are opportunities in biotechnology and biomedical engineering that are seldom mentioned in school. It is time medical students in Kenya caught the entrepreneurial bug and disrupted the hugely inefficient and resource strapped health care industry as we know it. There are opportunities in manufacturing our own medical supplies and devices. There are opportunities in building the necessary medical infrastructure (hospitals, diagnostic imaging services and clinical laboratories). The field is ripe for disruption, and instead of ignoring our inherent profit motives (something that is extremely hard to do in the long term), we can work with this motive and make seeking health services better, faster and cheaper.
It had suddenly gotten quiet, and I quickly emerged from the deep bowels of thought and imagination that I had gotten myself lost in, only to meet the disapproving gazes of my group members. Chastened, I flipped open the pages of my notebook and continued imbibing information that would be vital in making it to fourth year. Inside, a fire burned, as if lit by Prometheus himself.