Religious Studies Major to Medical School, Focus on the Underserved of Africa

Updated: May 30

In the sweating discomfort of the summertime heat, I walked through Philadelphia International Airport with several overweight bags, tired eyes, and a bad case of Shigella. Approaching Customs, I noticed the intensity and seriousness on the faces of the customs officers whose responsibility were to check passports and question passengers. As I moved closer to the front of the line, I noticed someone reading a foreign newspaper. The man was reading about the Middle Eastern conflict, a clash fueled by religious intolerance. What a sharp contrast to Ghana, I thought. I had just spent three weeks in Ghana. While there I worked, studied their religions, ate their food, traveled and contracted malaria. Despite all of Ghana’s economic hardships, the blending of Christianity, Islam, and traditional religion did not affect the health of the country. When I reached the front of the line, the customs officer glanced at my backpack and with authoritative curiosity asked me, “What are you studying?” I responded in a fatigued, yet polite voice, “Religious studies with a pre-med track.” Surprised, the officer replied rhetorically, “Science and religion, interesting, how does that work?” This was not the first time I had encountered the bewildered facial expression or this doubtful rhetorical question. I took a moment to think and process the question and answered, “With balance.”

Throughout my young life I have made an effort to be well-rounded, improve in all facets of my personal life, and find a balance between my personal interests and my social responsibility. In my quest to understand where I fit into society, I used service to provide a link between science and my faith. Science and religion are fundamentally different; science is governed by the ability to provide evidence to prove the truth while religion’s truth is grounded on the concept of faith. Physicians are constantly balancing the reality of a person’s humanity and the illness in which they are caring for. The physicians I have found to be most memorable and effective were those who were equally as sensitive and perceptive of my spirits as they were of my symptoms. Therefore, my desire to become a physician has always been validated, not contradicted by my belief system. In serving, a person must sacrifice and give altruistically. When one serves they sacrifice their self for others benefit. Being a servant is characterized by leading by example and striving to be an advocate for equity.

As a seventh grade math and science teacher in the Philadelphia public school system, everyday is about sacrifice and service. I sacrifice my time before, during and after-school; tutoring, mentoring and coaching my students. I serve with vigor and purpose so that my students can have opportunities that many students from similar backgrounds do not have. However, without a balance my effectiveness as a teacher is compromised. In February, I was hospitalized twice for a series of asthma attacks. Although I had been diagnosed with asthma, I had not had an attack since I was in middle school. Consequently, the physicians attributed my attacks to high stress, lack of sleep, and poor eating habits. It had become clear to me that my unrelenting drive to provide my students with a sound math and science education without properly balancing teaching and my personal life negatively impacted my ability to serve my students. I believe this experience taught me a lesson that will prove to be invaluable as a physician. Establishing an equilibrium between my service and my personal life as a physician will allow me to remain connected to the human experience; thus enabling me to serve my patients with more compassion and effectiveness.

Throughout my travels and experiences I have seen the unfortunate consequences of not having equitable, quality health care both domestically and abroad. While many take having good health for granted, the financial, emotional, mental, and physical effects illnesses have on individuals and families can have a profound affect on them and the greater society. Illness marks a point in many people’s lives where they are most vulnerable, thus making a patient’s faith and health care providers vital to their healing process. My pursuit to blend the roles of science and religion formulate my firm belief that health care providers are caretakers of God’s children and have a responsibility to all of humanity. Nevertheless, I realize my effectiveness and success as a physician will be predicated mostly on my ability to harmonize my ambition with my purpose. Therefore, I will always answer bewildered looks with the assurance that my faith and my abilities will allow me to serve my patients and achieve what I have always striven for and firmly believe in.

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