“Do you really want to become a doctor? Or do you just want the money? The prestige? The immigrant success story?”
From the day I set my eyes on health care, these were the questions that clawed at the back of my mind.
The archetypal pre-med is one who has a pure and selfless heart, who toils away at OCHEM until 3 a.m. at Davidson Library, just to be able to one day heal the wounded. They get straight A’s and love the homeless and the elderly, and there exists no shadow of a doubt in their passion for pursuing medicine.
I was never the poster child for the “pre-med” label. My desire to pursue health care was not sparked by a profound, life-changing event. My grades weren’t perfect. I just always knew that I wanted to become a dentist. However, not fitting the archetype of a pre-med student discouraged me from pursuing that goal. This same mindset applies to many of us pursuing careers in healthcare. There is a subtle shame that accompanies the uncertainty behind our ambition.
It wasn’t until recently that I stopped doubting myself and my ambitions. During winter quarter of my senior year, I learned about Floating Doctors, a nonprofit organization created by a UCSB alumnus whose aim is to deliver free health care to remote and underserved communities worldwide. Thanks to this humanitarian organization, I was able to participate in the raw, unglorified experience of providing health care by volunteering as a dental assistant in Bisira, Panama. Upon arrival at the Floating Doctors base, our group of nearly 40 volunteers from UCSB teamed up with an international crew of health care providers, including medical doctors, nurse practitioners, registered nurses and one dentist, to prepare the equipment needed for the upcoming multi-day clinic.
During our week-long stay, we slept inside a dilapidated shack with no running water or electricity (in comparison to the amenities provided by similar organizations, such as hotel rooms). We bathed in the river each day after taking down our mobile clinic and shared one toilet amongst our large crew. The most humbling part of my week abroad was witnessing Dr. Richard Potter, the sole dentist on our expedition, serve the entire community day after day. With the most bare-bones instruments available, he tirelessly treated each patient from morning until night, in only two days performing over 60 tooth extractions. In terms of hands-on work, we were able to educate the local school children on proper oral hygiene via song and dance, apply fluoride to children’s teeth, create patient charts, bring and sterilize instruments for Dr. Potter and provide lighting with our phones, and handle all other responsibilities apart from performing actual dental treatments. Being able to help those in an area lacking access to proper dental care convinced me that my desire to become a dentist was real.
So for any anxious students out there currently struggling with whether going into health care is right for them, I wholly recommend volunteering with Floating Doctors. There is no better way to know for sure if becoming a doctor, dentist, nurse or other healthcare provider is right for you than by forcing yourself out of your comfort zone, getting your hands dirty and acquiring real-world experience in the field of your dreams. Floating Doctors is the best organization for the uncertain pre-med to apply to because it provides an unpolished, realistic, and gritty volunteering experience abroad. I only wish that I had known about the organization sooner.
Siavash Ghadiri believes being a dentist is the most gangster job out there.