Medical student’s desire to helpBarbadian medical student Khara Collymore is determined to practise medicine in Africa. (Picture by Rawle Culbard.)
By Natasha Beckles | Sun, April 29, 2012 - 10:17 AM
Khara Collymore has always been fascinated by volunteerism, the world’s “forgotten people” and the medical profession.
It is therefore not surprising that she has found a way to bring these diverse interests together.
In June, the 23-year-old final year medical student at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus will be going to a hospital in Mombasa, Kenya, for a one-month stint.
Last week, she spoke with the SUNDAY SUN about her decision to study medicine, love for Africa and determination to help those who are less fortunate.
Khara recalled that as she progressed through, she made all the choices that would lead to a career in medicine.
However, while studying biology and chemistry at Cave Hill, she started to question if, and why, she really wanted to do medicine.
“I was sitting in a Government office . . . and I was thinking about it,” she said. “Everywhere I went, it was on my mind because it was time to start sending in your applications and things like that.
“While I was there, I remembered this news story [on television] was saying something along the lines of there being one doctor to every 20 000 people in Somalia. I thought that was a very good reason to become a doctor.
“I don’t think you need more of a reason than that because there really aren’t enough doctors in some parts of the world.”
As they say, the rest is history.
The former Alexandra School head girl, who wants to specialize in anaesthesia, is now sure that she wants to practise internationally.
“In your fourth and fifth years, you can go anywhere in the world and study,” she noted. “Most people that I know study within the Caribbean or England or the United States, but because of what I know I want to do, in terms of going to Africa or . . . someplace where there are not a lot of doctors . . . . I thought it would be a good idea to go and do an elective there to get an idea of what it’s like.
“I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do it or not because there was a significant price tag and I would have to source funding. I thought about it for a while and then I decided that I would go ahead.”
Although Khara started out writing a personal sponsorship proposal, in the end she decided to approach the Faculty of Medicine with the idea of an annual structured elective programme which would afford one student per year the opportunity to go to Africa.
“I just kept thinking what if some other student hears about it and they decide it’s an interesting thing to do,” she said, noting that such a programme would ensure that the necessary funds were available each year.
It will cost Khara about $10 000 to fund her trip and she is seeking funding for airfare, placement in the programme and miscellaneous expenses.
The placement is being arranged by Elective Africa, an organization which coordinates volunteer opportunities for health care professionals and students.
Although she has never been to Africa, Khara developed her love for the continent from an early age.
“I was very young when my mother did her degree in English and linguistics, and as a child I was always reading,” she recalled. “She used to have several books with these short stories about Africa. There are things about those stories that I didn’t understand then, but I did understand that it was very different.
“For some reason, I just tend to like people who I call the ‘forgotten people’. I try to respect them and give them their dignity."
One opportunity to assist arose in the aftermath of the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti when Khara visited the disaster-torn country with Hospitals of Hope, an American-based volunteer organization.
“Even though it was very taxing physically to be continually caring for these people . . . I came back saying I could do this again, I could do this for a long period, I could do this for a lifetime.”
Many young doctors in developed countries have felt obligated to help people in less developed parts of the world such as Africa, and Khara hopes that some Caribbean-trained doctors will do the same.
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