I have repeated the phrase “Yes, Uganda was amazing” over and over for the past two weeks. It isn’t a lie, but it also isn’t the full truth. My time in Uganda made me reconsider everything, including why I want to be a doctor and whether I will even be a good doctor. I think I have come out on the side of “I hope to someday be a good doctor,” but this experience marks the first time in my journey in medicine that I have ever doubted my path. I have wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember. As a child, my mother shared with me the story of her pregnancy and my birth: after an emergency C-section, I died and was resuscitated. My parents were told that I may not survive, and may suffer mental deficits if I do. But I pulled through as a large, healthy baby girl. With this story in the backdrop of my childhood, I wanted to give others the same opportunity to live that my doctor had given me.
I worked hard throughout high school, college, and medical school to find myself in Uganda questioning my path. I felt that I was the least knowledgeable person in my surroundings, and struggled to visualize a time when I would be more competent. I floundered through basic procedures such as catheterizations and nasogastric tubes, and my endless response of “I don’t know” to any cardiorespiratory resuscitation- or management-related question decreased my confidence by the second. I became frustrated and discouraged.
I was only able to break through this negativity by spending time in the operating room where I found my “happy place.” I learned to find positive elements, usually in the form of surgical skills and skin closures, and studied late after dinner each night to ensure that I would not get the same question wrong twice. I am worried that I might run into these same frustrations and discouragement in my ever-approaching third-year clerkships, but I hope that I have started to become more comfortable being uncomfortable.
Looking back, the hardest challenge was my own impatience. I am a fast-paced, fast-talking, fast-moving kind of person who loves efficiency and efficacy – characteristics that could not be more different than the cultural norms in Uganda. Each day at the hospital starts slowly, as rounds take up to four hours with only forty patients at maximum capacity. Monday and Friday mornings are marked by hours of morning meetings and prayer, during which I could not help but feel time was being completely wasted. Even the pace at which patient interviews are conducted frustrated me to my inner core. However, despite the continual frustration and impatience, I learned that I can tolerate far more than I ever imagined. I also learned that I need to work on my impatience and tendency to rush, to slow down and give myself and others time to think and process.
Now three weeks into classes, I find it hard to believe that I have returned to school. There are days when it seems that I never left, as I find myself caught up in daily classes, team-based learning, and endless studying. But occasionally, when I have rice or beans with dinner or hear the buzzing of a mosquito, it all comes back and I wonder how my six weeks in Uganda went by so fast.
- View a photo essay from Callahan’s time in Uganda, published in Vermont Medicine.
- Read more about the Larner College of Medicine/Western Connecticut Health Network Global Health Program.
- Read more blog posts from participants on the Global Health Diaries blog.