This one time, at badEMfest18…

Remember that time I went to a little town (village??) called Greyton, with some friends, and had a blast?

It happened again.

This time, not as a student, but as a doctor. Then, Greyton enriched me. This time, it may well have changed my life. Or at least, my career. (Are they really two different things?)

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I went to a conference called BAD EM Fest – Brave African Discussions in Emergency Medicine. “But you don’t even like Emergency Medicine,” my best friend said. Lies, damned lies! I don’t NOT like EM. I just find it terrifying. (For the record, there were HCPs from various specialties, not limited to EM.)

And I would have left it there, except that one of the organisers kept encouraging me to sign up (thanks, Kat), and it looked so fun. Where have you ever heard of a medical conference where attendees glamp (Google it), walk around barefoot, and go for twice-daily hikes in the mountains? Oh, and have live music shows in the evenings at dinner.

So with a little bit of encouragement from my friends, I shut my eyes tightly, told the little voice in my head that said, “BUT YOU HATE CROWDS” to shut up, and clicked “pay”.

I could tell you a lot of important stuff about the conference, but most of it has been said quite eloquently, by Penny Wilson, Andrew Tagg, Dan Roberts, Kaleb Lachenicht, and Simon Carley.

While I learned a whole lot, the reason badEMfest felt almost like a religious experience (minus the mandatory guilt and hell-fire), was a lot more personal.

After the first session, which included talks ranging from diversity to advocacy, I turned to my friend, May, and whispered, “No matter what happens now, this is already worth it.”

Here’s the thing about May, though: we have been friends on Twitter for years, but we only met in person that day. You wouldn’t have guessed it (and many people were surprised) because we knew each other’s lives so well. Gone are the days where “internet friends are not real friends”.

May is not the first Twitter-friend I have met in person, and she certainly was not the last: in those four days I met local and international healthcare professionals that I have followed (and admired) for years. It was not uncommon to ask a new face, “Who are you on Twitter?”

So it was at the end of the first day that I had a moment of clarity: These are my people.

And you will know how huge that is, if you’ve ever felt alone in medicine. If you’ve ever thought that you were alone in being affected by the non-clinical aspects of your patients’ lives. If you have ever felt impotent to effect real change. If you have ever felt victimised. If you have ever shouted unto the void, and received only an echo in exchange.

My depression means I often feel isolated – even when that is not the case. Because I have been afraid, and because depression told me that I was not worthy, I have not reached out to role models; I have not asked for advice when I could (should) have; I have often re-invented the wheel, and done so poorly.

To be fair, I did have a few nasty supervisors in my training. But at badEMfest, I saw how kindness permeates medicine. I met super-bosses. I met absolutely innovative people. I met some of the kindest, most compassionate clinicians.

Part of me was bitter – how had I been allowed to go so long without knowing that I was not alone? But in the face of overwhelming support, bitterness is so hard to hold on to. Instead, I’ve got an overwhelming urge to make sure that junior doctors and medical students get to know that they are not alone. To make sure that kindness outnumbers the nasties. Because it is easy to think that the slave-driving registrar is representative of the rest of medicine. But maybe they’re having a horrible time too. Everybody needs some kindness.

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And I’ve got this bubble of excitement as I consider my next steps… because suddenly, anything is possible.

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FAQ: Will I Get Into Med School?

Ever since I first posted tips for applying to medicine (in South Africa) in 2014, I have received multiple questions from aspirant medical students.

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The hardest to answer (and thus one of the most popular) is DO I STILL STAND A CHANCE? – usually prefaced with the person’s failure to achieve the desired grades for medical admission, or some other stumbling block. Continue reading “FAQ: Will I Get Into Med School?”

Ten Books Every Lifelong Learner Should Read

Linking up with The Broke and The Bookish for Top Ten Tuesday. Today’s topic is “Ten books every (X) Should read.”

fa06114a227c0d6d401a3473ca949b4fI have a million-bajillion lists about books every medical student or health-professional should read; so I decided to pretend I know something and suggest books for, well, almost everyone. On Semester at Sea, we had “Lifelong Learners”. These were slightly older voyagers who had already worked and gained life experience, and who sailed with us and audited classes.

I like the concept of lifelong learning. I love the idea that you are not stuck with learning only about whatever you studied in college/university; I love the idea that you can gain knowledge about almost anything if you are inspired to do so (thank you, Google). I believe I am a life-long learner; and I believe that books are at least partially responsible for that.

The list, in no particular order: Continue reading “Ten Books Every Lifelong Learner Should Read”

Dear Graduates: You Should Be Supporting #FeesMustFall

Dear Graduates of South Africa

Perhaps, like me, you shook your head when you first saw the hashtag #FeesMustFall. You empathised with the expense of tertiary education, but you had lives to save or exams to mark or bridges to build and you thought, “Why do young people in this country want to make everything FALL?”

Continue reading “Dear Graduates: You Should Be Supporting #FeesMustFall”

Learning Through Fiction | Ethiopia in “Black Dove, White Raven” [+Infographic]

I’ve decided to start a new sort-of series (that will obviously be completely irregular) about things I learn from books. Fictional books! I love learning new things, and that’s not only limited to topics in my chosen profession. One of the reasons I love reading is that it opens my eyes to so many things I never knew, or points of view I had not considered. 

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Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein – this was the book I just could not wait to buy. After Code Name Verity smashed my heart to smithereens and ground it underfoot, I had to have more (well, the book was really good). Continue reading “Learning Through Fiction | Ethiopia in “Black Dove, White Raven” [+Infographic]”

Another Disability Grant Request

“Uyagoduka namhlanje!” I say with the biggest smile. You can go home today! It’s one of my favourite things to tell patients. Sometimes I think it’s the only time they ever like me.

And she does smile. The physiotherapist discharged her day one post-op and she wanted to go home so badly, but I felt day one was a bit soon. What can I say: I’m an intern, I’m too careful.

Then she asks, “So what thing did you put in my leg?”

She injured herself playing contact sports and sustained a mean distal femur fracture. I tell her the basics: we put some hardware in her leg to keep the bone together.

And her neighbour, a middle-aged woman, says, “So that means she can get a disability grant.”

Copyright Faheema Patel 2010, “Human Inside” | Click image for link.

NO. Continue reading “Another Disability Grant Request”

Paired Reading: Refugees and Displaced Persons in Africa

While on holiday in Zambia I read two absolutely breathtaking books. I bought both of these books myself and was not asked to review them, but I feel the need to share them with everyone.

A prelude: The number of displaced persons in Africa is huge. We have many refugees and many internally displaced persons and in South Africa, the supposed land of milk and honey, many foreigners have been victims of xenophobia. This year especially has seen flares in violence against persons perceived to be foreigners There are a lot of politics underlying the whole story, and it’s not something I necessarily understand well enough to explain in simple terms, but it is tangible in this land.

Abandoned Somali shop, Makause, East Rand. By Richard Poplak. Click for link.
Abandoned Somali shop, Makause, East Rand. By Richard Poplak. Click for link.

Continue reading “Paired Reading: Refugees and Displaced Persons in Africa”

Did You Know That Seeds Are Freaking Awesome?!

I love micro-histories – books that delve into the history and specifics of one small specific thing. One of my favourites is The Big Necessity by Rose George, about human waste (and the toilet). Just for balance, my least favourite is Stiff by Mary Roach.

The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson is about, well: seeds. I requested the book because the cover looked pretty cool and because, as I already said, I enjoy finding out really random and extensive things about one focused object. Continue reading “Did You Know That Seeds Are Freaking Awesome?!”

The Passion Deception: Beyond What You “Like”

Last week, I wrote about how the idea of “passion” can overwhelm us into unrealistic future prospects. I actually got some good feedback from readers, which leads me to believe that I am certainly not the only one with this experience.

But if you’re a high school student – or otherwise at the threshold of choosing a career – you might wonder, WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE ME? If you have been told your whole life that you need simply to do what you love (and you’ll “never work a day in your life”, yada yada yada), you might not know HOW else to choose a path forward.

My suggestion? Ye ole’ trusty mindmap.

Many of ours (mine included) may have looked something like this:

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When in reality, it probably should have looked something like this: Continue reading “The Passion Deception: Beyond What You “Like””