My name is Max. I’m 27 and I am nearing the end of my medical residency . My mother is a social worker in a paediatric clinic down town, while my father is a college math teacher. You’d think that my mother’s work and the sound scientific knowledge touted by my father would have been the main push towards my studying and practicing medicine. No doubt, these were contributing factors. Ultimately, however, my journey to medical school was a bit unexpected. At 19, I joined a family friend and travelled to Ghana. Located in West Africa, the country is bordered by the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Togo. A number of factors, including it’s abundance in industrial minerals, the discovery of oil on it’s coast in 2007 and near-universal child-education, Ghana is an socio-economic leader on the continent and it’s development is a case study for many economist and social policy developers alike. It’s national health care program is also of interest, though the access to health care outside urban areas is extremely limited. I knew very little of this, however, when I landed at Kotoko airport in 2008.
While based in the capital of Accra, Kwame, the family friend in question, helped put me in touch with the Red Cross. I ended up doing some sort of volunteering/internship with the organization at a Liberian refugee camp, helping out with various tasks, from the Family Reunification Program-helping sort family location requests and Red Cross messages from Liberians abroad. For one reason or another, I also ended up organizing and stacking the supply cabinet for the medical clinic, St-Gregory Catholic Clinic. Buduburam refugee camp is located in the district of East Gomoa, about an hour from the capital, where I returned on weekends. I spent four enriching summer months volunteering and accomplishing various tasks. Buduburam is a protracted refugee situation, meaning this is a settlement for forcibly displaced migrants.It was established in 1990 and developed into semi-permanent community housing for about 14 000 refugees. As such, what I saw in 2008 had little to do with the harrowing footage you see in the media.
As I stacked medical supplies, I got to meet the foreign and Ghanaian medical doctors working and passing through the camp. Interning at Budumburan inspired me to think about ways in which I might commit my life towards the betterment of the human condition. At the clinic, I got to learn not only about the health concerns of camp residents but also issues of health care access for local Ghanaians including a dismal doctor to patient ratio, high fertility rates with little access to perinatal care, cases of malaria and Bilharzia . As you can see, some of these health concerns could be addressed with a decently stocked pharmacy and adequate access to a doctor, near by. I thought to myself that a medical professional with humble ambition of helping run a small town clinic where otherwise there would none, helping with prevention and administering care for more minor health concerns, may be ensuring these did not develop into more serious health issues requiring further hospitalization. It would no doubt be invisible, humbling work, with no glamour attached to it whatsoever. The more I thought about it, the more I found myself envisionning this further with a deep sense of yearning.
So here I am now, at the tail end of my training, specializing in family medicine. contrary to my colleagues, who are searching for opportunities to work in clinics or reputable hospitals across the nation, I’ve been preparing myself to relocate and offer my expertise wherever medical assistance is hard to access.
While studying, I met and grew increasingly close to Mabel, who has since become my girlfriend. She is a nurse-practicionner who completed her studies at McGill University, where we met. She is filipino but came to Canada as a teenager. In many ways, she shares my professional dream, I was just describing. Having lived in the Philippines until the age of 15, she experienced relatively good access to health care here and was deeply moved by the significance of this fact. On the other hand, she talks about being mind-boggled about why such a wealthy country could not get it’s act together to offer basic health care services to those most marginalized individuals who can’t access them (i.e. migrants with precarious status, people who are homeless, etc.) This experience is a big part of what encouraged her to become a nurse with specialized training, in order to go back and give back to her community which nurtured and raised her up. It is also part of what first made me fall in love with her.
We are now concretizing our shared dream together. She entered in contact with family members looking to find the right location and connections to open a clinic. We have secured a Canadian government fund and a community commitment to build this clinic, in addition to promising funding opportunities from the filipino government. Mabel has travelled to Benguet province, where our clinic will soon be built up. She met with community leaders who appear to be looking forward to its opening. I have not yet been able to visit, given my rigorous residency program, but I will as soon as I can. In the mean time I am studying Ilocano in my spare time to better communicate with my patients and build in intimacy with Mabel by being able to communicate with her in her mother tongue.
I am eager to commence my life with Mabel, building our shared dream. I’ve been shopping for a ring and hope we will be landing in the Philippines as husband and wife.