Humans of INKspire

Clara Osei-Yeboah | Medical Student

For those who are not familiar with you, what is your story?

I did a four-year undergrad program at the University of Toronto in Human Biology and English. I’ve always been interested in writing from a really young age, which is why I chose English as a second major. I’ve also always been interested in medicine and science in general. I applied to medical school in my last year of undergrad, and I didn’t get in that first time. After that, I had to figure out a game plan really quickly because I hadn’t anticipated not getting in. I eventually got a job as a surgical assistant at a private ophthalmology clinic. I learned a lot about how to take care of patients. I also learned a lot about myself, my strengths, and limitations, and really took my job as an opportunity to challenge myself and grow.

What are some of the biggest things that you’ve taken away from your journey?

When I didn’t get into medical school the first time, I was really disappointed. I was really upset and went through a lot of different emotions. I think I’d always put pressure on myself to get accepted into a medical professional program. When I tried the second time and failed again, I felt that pressure even more because I was comparing myself to my colleagues and friends. I was working at the time, and where I was working, it was really hard to move up. I felt kind of stuck in this weird stasis. I saw all my friends getting into their professional programs of choice and I saw people moving on with life, and I was stuck in the same place. So my biggest takeaway was learning that I was more resilient than I thought. When I didn’t get into medical school, I had to ask myself “Why didn’t I get in? What can I do to improve my application for the next time? How can I improve myself and gain meaningful experiences?”. Another thing I’ve taken away from my journey is not comparing myself to other people. I was comparing myself to other people to measure what success was. When I finally realized that comparing myself to other people is not necessarily helpful or productive for me, that’s when I was able to really focus on myself and the things that I enjoy.

What sparked your interest in wanting to be a doctor and go to medical school?

Racism is a social determinant of health and affects people in different ways. The major thing for me was seeing how racism and xenophobia affected my parents and their health. Witnessing firsthand the struggles my parents went through, I was motivated to get into the field of medicine and help address some of the inequities that some patients face. That’s why I think I’ve always been interested in medicine. At this particular juncture, I don’t really see myself ever doing anything else. I feel like this is where I could really see myself using my skills to make some good changes in this country and in the healthcare system.

What is your advice to youth who have not found their passion yet?

My advice to young people who haven’t yet found their passion is to not rush and to take their time. I think that sometimes, as I mentioned before, we compare ourselves to others and it’s really hard to focus on yourself when you do that. Continue to explore. If it’s feasible for you, for example, volunteer and get involved in different kinds of projects. What are your skills? What do you like to do? I also think having a mentor is very helpful. At UofT, for example, there are mentorship programs for young people to provide guidance or support. There’s no real rush, and the fun about being young is that you have all this time! You don’t have the constraints of adulthood and work to restrain you from figuring out what you want to do.

What was the most important thing that you learned this year?

One of the most important things I’ve learned this year is how to navigate relationships. Obviously, with COVID, it’s hard to be social with people. I think the funny thing about COVID is, in a way, it’s taught me about the people that I really value in my life and how important those people are, and how important those relationships are. I found that the friends that I have maintained contact with are my real friends. It hasn’t been very hard trying to maintain contact with these people, whereas with other people, it is a lot of work. And you realize that maybe the friendship or the relationship is not as valuable as you thought it was. So I found that during COVID and quarantine, I’ve learned to suss out the really important relationships. Those relationships have been really important in helping me deal with quarantine and the feelings of isolation and uncertainty that a lot of us are experiencing right now. I’ve also learned a lot about family and how important family is to me. Family has always been important to me, but I feel even more so in quarantine because I’m around them 24/7. Since I haven’t been around family for a while because of school, it’s been really nice and definitely something I value.

If you could take anyone for coffee, who would it be? And what would you like to talk about?

It’d probably be Michelle Obama. I’ve always been super impressed by her. One of the biggest things that impressed me, and something I’m trying to learn more of how to do this year, is her ability to stay resilient and not focus on what people have to say about her. How did she ignore the racism and the hate and just stay focused and accomplish everything that she accomplished? It is a true testament to her strength and resilience and I’d love to learn more about what that experience was like. I recently started reading her book and that’s been really interesting as well because it gives a lot of insight into her childhood, how she grew up, and why she holds the values that she does. In her book, she discusses what it was like to be the president’s wife and to be first lady, and her experiences of being antagonised. I would love to know how she overcame those experiences.

How do you stay resilient during these uncertain times? And how are you adapting to the new norm?

The main way I try to stay resilient is by maintaining contact with friends and people who are really important to me. It’s nice to know that you’re not alone. Sometimes you just need a soundboard to vent and talk to someone. As I mentioned before with medical school, everything transitioned to virtual platforms and there were some things that unfortunately, we just couldn’t do online. For me, that was one of the toughest things to adapt to because that was the new norm for us during school. You start to wonder “how am I a medical student if I’m not really learning clinical skills the way that we normally would?”. So I think that that was one of the hardest things about the transition and about this new norm. But adapting to it was just about realizing that we’re always going to be equipped with the skills that we need to be successful when we do become medical professionals.

I think that adapting to the new norm also involved support from professors, teachers, doctors, and from other students. Having a lot of support groups and peer sessions was also really helpful. I’m always worried about trying to be productive and doing a lot at once because with the new norm of being at home, I feel like I have so much time now. I think that trying to focus more on things that make me happy and not necessarily focus on doing a bunch of different projects because I feel like I have to has also been a good way for me to think about this. That’s easier said than done. I still do a lot of different things and I’m trying to just focus on me and what makes me happy.