Omar Bojang: Personal Statement of an aspiring Medical Doctor
I like to think that the story of me is told in two parts. The first part long before me, and the second part long after me. Allow me to explain. My father was one of 12 siblings and grew up with not much than the land he and his father would farm on. He grew up in The Gambia, West Africa - a peaceful country right on the coast, so small on the map, you have probably missed it everytime, but so memorable if you have ever visited. I miss it all the time.
My grandparents knew that the opportunities in their home country were limited, so they did everything possible to allow their children to travel the world, in search of new ground to break. My father was one of the fortunate ones in his family, who was able to find a one way ticket to college in America. Here he was, in a completely foreign land he knew nothing about, attending a predominantly White institution with a culture he had never experienced. He worked diligently to obtain his degree and find an occupation that would allow him to give back to those less fortunate in his home, in hopes that they could live an easier life.
This is the essence of what my life means to me and why I hope that my story goes on long after I am here. From birth my parents have instilled in me the necessity of giving back. At the dinner table, my parents would tell me struggles and hardships they endured and how they persevered because they knew within themselves that it was for a greater good. I would always take heed, but all of this became reality for me this past winter break when I packed my bags and lived in The Gambia for over a month. It was the very first time I had been. I hadn’t ever left the United States before and I was unsure of what to expect. I remember stepping off the plane for the first time and smelling the ocean breeze sweep through my lungs - something about it comforted me, gave me peace.
Over the course of several weeks, I became quite accustomed to the culture. At every avenue, I took the opportunity to immerse myself into the people and listen, learn and laugh with them. The happy times were endless, however there was always the backdrop of poverty, need and limited resources. I thought to myself, “How can people with so much less than me be so optimistic”, “How could they welcome me so warmly”. This is when I fell in love with the country and knew my calling was greater than myself. I looked my cousins in the eyes and saw the exact same face as mine looking back at me. I imagined how, so easily, I could be in their exact shoes and they could be in mine. This was striking to me, as of course I had always known it, but now, I was seeing it - it was real and I could not escape it. It was my duty to use the resources available to me to better the lives of others. How could I say I loved these people and not?
My trip came to an end at the beginning of the New Year and I thought to myself once I was back in the country, “How can I now ensure I was making the world around me a better place?” The answer was obvious, although now, there was a fire lit underneath. Healthcare has always been the occupation I imagined myself in. Doctors’ visits intrigued me as a child and I loved the idea of diagnosing patients and helping them feel better - just the same as every other medical student. However, for me, medicine was always a great way for me to fulfill my goals of giving back to my community, and my recent trip emphasized this for me. While overseas, I saw for myself the lack of development and need for more advanced medical care first hand. I saw the people with major health issues that would be a minor after thought over here.
My cousin told me about how he had to travel all the way to Egypt for heart surgery and how if he wasn’t able to, he probably wouldn’t be here to see the day I came to visit home. This is what made my passion to provide care grow even more from what it had been before I visited. I recall a family friend who visited my parents’ home in Gambia one day, with gifts for me and my sisters. He and my parents talked a while and they told him about how we’d be traveling back to America in the next few days. He said his goodbyes and they talked about how they’d see each other when we decided to visit again. Later that week, I and my family were in Chicago waiting on a connecting flight back to Kentucky when my dad returned a call he had missed on the prior flight. I looked at his face as it turned somber. He explained to us that the same man who had come to visit us earlier in the week was now dead; he was around the age of 30. He was having a painful stomach in the lower right part of his belly the night before, so he planned on traveling to the hospital the next day, since the closest one was in another city. The next morning he had passed.
The symptoms he was experiencing the night before were all the same symptoms I had for a few days back in high school. I ended up receiving a routine appendectomy and I distinctly recall my father explaining to me how thankful he was of how fast this was all resolved. He explained that if we were back in his home country, this may have been a serious issue I could’ve died from due to lack of resources.
When my dad was telling me about the family friend that passed, all I could think about was that conversation he had with me after my surgery. Of course we’ll never know what my father’s friend died from exactly, but it haunts me to know we probably had the same illness, only with two very different fates, simply because of where I was born. This is where my deep appreciation for my opportunities as well as where my passion to help others roots from. Of course, this passion is nothing without action. I wish to utilize my academic and social abilities to help others through a career in medicine.
Last summer was a huge part in helping me jumpstart this action plan. I was selected from a strong pool of candidates for the Markey Strong summer research program.
Through this program I was afforded the opportunity to conduct my own cancer research, as well as shadow and speak to multiple professionals within the healthcare field on a 1 on 1 basis. One of the most memorable experiences from this opportunity was a day I was able to witness a mammogram for a newly diagnosed cancer patient. The patient was a middle aged woman, form Eastern Kentucky, who was getting used to the prospect of being a cancer patient. I awkwardly twiddled my thumbs in the corner as the procedure was being prepared. I imagine the patient could sense my uneasiness about being in the room and she started a conversation with me, explaining to me that she was comfortable with me in the room and that I better be here to see if I was going to be a doctor one day. Her warmness comforted me and I spoke with the woman throughout her entire procedure. We talked about her family and mine and many other aspects of life. Once her procedure was completed she thanked me for making her feel comfortable and putting her at ease, I thanked her for the same thing. It was when I was back in my room, rethinking the day, that I realized this was the true way I could help people. That woman in the room had no obligation to talk to me, yet she still did in order to make me feel comfortable.
My conversation with her, in turn, made the process easier for her and this is what made me realize that not only could I help people physically, but I could also use my social skills to help them as well.
Reflecting back on this has solidified in my head that this is the pathway that would help me achieve my duty of giving back to others and ignites my passion daily. In this way, my story must be told in two parts, to truly understand why I have this drive to help others. I plan on continuing my career and one day returning to that little country on the coast of West
Africa, with not many things but many happy faces, to improve the quality of healthcare and develop a lasting infrastructure of assistance. Only after this, will my story end.