Updated: Jun 2, 2019
There is far more in you than you know. Far more in all of us than we can even imagine.
Transcending social categorisations of ethnicity, class and status exists a force within; it is sparked by self-belief and fuelled by a vision to be of service for a purpose bigger than ourselves.
It is this inner power, combined with the help of innumerable individuals, that has allowed me to graduate from medical school in London, publish a book and more recently to graduate with a Masters degree (in Public Health) from Yale University in the United States. And the journey continues.
Medical school is a means and not an end. Beyond its gates lie arduous hours and night shifts. There is no glamour. And the ‘oh he’s a doctor’ proclamations of enamoured family members soon wear off. Graduation from medical school marks the beginning of a very long road ahead – are you ready for it?
As important as it is to acknowledge the underrepresentation of Black individuals in the medical profession, an undue focus on this can derail you. Focus instead on why and HOW exactly you want to be of service in this world, and the strength of your desire will obliterate all obstacles in your way.
Acknowledge reality, but do not deny your own inner greatness. Be of service first to yourself by dreaming of a bigger life, then create a vision that includes others. Things of significance are not achieved by focusing on why we cannot, but on why we can, and WILL. Remember this.
Some of you might be saying, ‘well yes that’s very nice, but what can I actually do’. In response to this valid question, the advice I would give to aspiring doctors is as follows:
1. HAVE A PLAN
Nothing worthwhile is achieved without a blueprint and very few great things happen in life by chance. A couple of years before my book was published, I saw it in my mind’s eye until it was real to me. And then devised a plan to make that image a tangible reality. Executing that plan was much tougher than day-dreaming about publishing, but without it, the book would have remained a pipe-dream.
2. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
The great scientist Isaac Asimov mooted “Above all, never think you’re not good enough. Never think that. In life people will take you at your own reckoning.”.
Self-doubt not only acts as a brake on the path towards accomplishing your objectives, but is palpable to others, who might otherwise have collaborated with you. Besides, there will times when no one will believe in your dreams. You need to be able to stand alone sometimes for what you believe in, regardless of whether the crowd joins you. As I wrote in one of my poems, ‘Immortal Deeds’:
Immortal words are never writ By the souls of the o’er meek; Would Achilles’ name modern ears meet If he had been in spirit weak?”
3. KEEP MOVING FORWARD…STRATEGICALLY
If life demands one thing of us, it is progress in all of its domains. Be your very own personal trainer, targeting areas of weakness and continually optimising strong areas. Everything that you will achieve in life will be a by-product of who you are. Strive therefore, to be the greatest version of yourself. And all else shall follow.
4. HAVE A REASON
Without it, you might as well not begin. Life WILL throw curveballs, and unless your reason is bigger than providing for yourself alone, you will lack the resolve to follow through. To my thinking, life supplies you with the energy commensurate with your objective. Expanding the scope of your contribution therefore, will provide you with the fuel for when things get tough.
5. STEP BACK FROM TIME TO TIME TO SEE THE BIG PICTURE
Ultimately, being a doctor on a ‘pale blue dot’ grain of sand isn’t that significant, when measured against cosmic proportions. There is more to life than professional success.
Take a step back from time to time to remember this and to nourish the other parts of your mind and life. As my friend said in a conversation where he loosely quoting E.F Schumacher, “we are here to accumulate more than just financial capital…we must remember to gather social, spiritual and moral capital too.”
6. KNOW THAT THIS IS THE BEGINNING AND NOT THE END
Had I known this, I would probably have avoided the anti-climax that was the day I received the results that I had passed medical school. Life is a never-ending journey and the competencies you are required to become proficient in extend beyond just memorising semiabstract knowledge. Pace yourself.
7. STRIVE NOT ONLY TO ACCUMULATE, BUT TO LEAVE A LEGACY
What you will leave behind on this Earth is more important that what you alone have accomplished. Leave a footprint. In fact, leave a ladder with an instruction manual by the side, so that others too can benefit from what you learned.
Ultimately, achieving your goals (one of which is to become a doctor) boils down to two things – right mindset (i.e. mental tenacity) and correct action (or your willingness and capability to get things done). Dreaming of being a doctor is not sufficient to achieve that goal, but aimless action and revising pointless topics will avail nothing. Right vision combined with correct action is what will crystallise those cherished ideals you hold into reality.
And remember…strive always, to be the greatest version of you.
Medical Doctor | Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Class of 2010
MPH | Yale School of Public Health, Class of 2018