The clinic sees a lot of kids from TAPS and TASS (Tanzania Adventist Primary/Secondary School). A teacher usually comes with a group of them (5-6 kids) each day and predictably, they mostly present with a runny nose, cough, etc.
I got back early from my lunch break on Friday and there was a girl from TAPS waiting outside for the receptionists to get back and find her file (or chart, as we call it back home). The doctor also wasn’t back, so I sat next to her and the teacher for a bit. It was the first time I had seen a patient from TAPS alone without other classmates, so I got to talking with her. She was really shy, which made me smile, and she mostly answered my questions with one word (although I got a sweet ‘good afternoon, madam’ from her when I walked up to her).
After sitting for a bit, I asked her if she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said yes and I waited for her answer. Nobody said anything for a bit and I realized I only asked her if she knew, not what she wanted to be. So I followed up and asked her what she wanted to be. She said and I quote, “I want to be like you” and it made my heart warm (she stared stubbornly at the ground the whole time she talked, like looking at me would be too embarrassing).
So I took her to the doctor’s office, gave her my white coat to wear, and showed her how to use the stethoscope to listen to her heart and mine. On our way out of the doctor’s office, she reached for my hand and held it while we walked outside to show her teacher what she had learned! She went around and listened to everyone’s heart (once, listening on the wrong side) as I introduced her to the nursing staff as our new doctor in training.
She’s rocking the white coat! (You can see the TAPS school uniform she’s wearing, too).
A lot of people have a lot of goals in their lives, both personal and professional. Even within the medical professional realm, some people want to be CEO of a hospital, do groundbreaking research to solve a question, or be world renowned for their clinical finesse. There are so many different paths doctors can take in their careers. I’ve tried these various goals on for size, but they never speak to me the way the speak to other people.
My professional goal is to inspire the next generation. It’s less lofty and less impressive than the other goals above, but I wanted to be a teacher longer than I wanted to be a doctor and what better way is there to combine the two professions? Medical education is at the heart of what I want to do when I grow up and seeing this little girl amazed at the heartbeat she was producing with the stethoscope in her hand, walking around the clinic in a too-big-for-her white coat reminded me why academic medicine, and therefore inspiring the next generation, is my professional goal.