Stories of Transformation: Overcoming Challenges to Improve Lives

Vanessa's Story

“Lord, if this career path is truly where You want me to be, please make it known throughout this internship.” This was the prayer I whispered to myself on the plane as I traveled to Iquitos, Peru.

My need for clarity came at a time when I began to question why I was unfulfilled at my current job. My intention after graduating from Fisk University was to further my education in the medical field. Instead, I took a publishing job that would assist me in maintaining my livelihood.

Although I chose publishing, that stirring inside me to become a physician never subsided. I began searching for ways to transition back to medicine. My search led to an internship with the Tropical Pathology and Infectious Disease Association in Peru.

By this time, I was sure that my age and my limited medical experience would disqualify me as an applicant, but I did not let that deter me from applying. I did everything in my power to prove that I was deserving of that opportunity. I even reached out to the director, who, surprisingly, remembered me from a presentation he did during my junior year at Fisk.

Weeks later I received the email that caused tears to stream down my face. As the words We are pleased to inform you of your acceptance stared back at me, I knew my journey toward becoming realigned with my destiny had just begun.

Two days in and I was pumped! It didn’t take long for me to adjust to the daytime schedule of classes followed by the few hours of shadowing. Now, the overnight clinical shifts were another story, but I persevered and survived.

I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t flinch at the needle the length of my index finger penetrating the epidural space of one mother’s spinal cord. Nor did I become squeamish as I witnessed my first caesarean section. Instead, I was fascinated by the details of the procedures.

With each patient I encountered—whether it was the 75-year-old woman with ovarian cancer, the 48-year-old man who showed symptoms of dengue fever, or the row of newborns who would not be visiting home soon due to complications—I became more sure of my purpose. By the end of the ten-day internship, my mind and heart were of one accord.

Upon returning from my internship, the atmosphere at work began to shift. The reality that I was working in someone else’s career began to sink in. But fear of the unknown seemed to overshadow my reality. Thoughts raced through my mind: What are my next steps? How will I transition back to the student life at my age? Most importantly, how will I pay my bills?

It was my promotion to chief editor over the company’s monthly newspaper that made me settle. Though I chose to remain, I didn’t let my cowardly decision extinguish my inner desire. I began incorporating awareness and preventative healthcare articles in the newspaper and utilized my days off and vacations for medical missions, shadowing, and attending health seminars.

Then the year came. It was my five-year mark with the publishing company, and I was up for another pay increase. As I reflected on my journey, I knew what I had to do. I followed the advice of the free bird in Maya Angelou’s poem titled “Caged Bird.” I resigned and realigned.

Since my leap, I’ve taken and excelled in the recommended courses (e.g., biochemistry) to aid in my journey toward medical school. I am also currently shadowing a pediatrician and volunteering with the Tennessee Kidney Foundation (TKF). Both establishments mainly serve minority and low-income populations in Nashville.

I am currently seeking admission to the Pre-Matriculation Program (PMP) which is a multi-track academic enrichment program. I believe this program will propel me forward to fulfill my goal of becoming a family practitioner.

As a non-traditional student, I am aware of my need to acquire certain skills not only to improve my competitiveness as a medical school applicant but also to ensure that I excel beyond medical school.

Our healthcare system has drastically evolved over the past century. The advancement of medical knowledge and technology has contributed to lower mortality in the US. However, these advancements do not address the increasing shortage of doctors in our country.

This shortage, which comes as a result of the growing and aging populations, will likely affect the economically disadvantaged populations the most. I believe my determination and the initiatives I am already taking to become a doctor address the increasing doctor shortage.

In my involvement with Dowin’s Pediatric Clinic, I am already being trained to assess patients and perform minor procedures on the level of third-year medical students. I am also servicing many participants through the preventative health screenings provided by Tennessee Kidney Foundation.

All of my medical experiences have enhanced my understanding that patients are people first, and the type of care they receive and their relationship with their physician plays a vital role in the reduction of health disparities.

I am travelling full speed ahead in the direction of where I am called to be, a medical doctor, specializing in family practice.

OneLove ~(Vanessa Lewis)

Real transformation requires real honesty. If you want to move forward - get real with yourself.     

Bryant H. McGill

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