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Becoming a Medical Doctor from a Traditional Background


It has always been my passion to become a medical doctor. However, being from a traditional background creates a dilemma for me. Because of this, it is like being caught between scissors; an internal conflict immediately starts to pull me in opposite directions. In a famous African proverb, it is like holding the tails of two lions at the same time, which of course, is impossible to do. I had to decide which kind of medical education to choose and let one go for a moment. I decided to relinquish the traditional education for now. However, as I grow more into western education, I have begun to realize that I can enhance and contextualize this knowledge with my traditional natural gifts. My uniqueness will enable me to play an essential role in my family, community, and Liberia at large because, for many Liberians, traditional education is still highly valued. As science is finally beginning to show, traditional herbal remedies and other natural, earth-based medicines are incredibly useful. With this, I can see myself working both for traditional people and for westerners, and also to be able to combine these different approaches in my day-to-day medical practice. Although these two world views and skillsets will make me unique as a healer, there are also challenges that I need to cope with in order to fulfill this position.

Traditional Education

As a teen coming up in a traditional community, I was chosen by our ancestors to be the next herbalist after my grandfather. In my family, the selection is made directly by the spirits; in which an inquiry of who is to become the next herbalist is made several times, at our traditional waterside. This particular waterside is where my family believes our ancestor’s spirits reside after death. During ceremonies at the waterside, the elders, or zos ask the spirits about our family's health, land, and who is to proceed to any of the traditional family positions. This is done by one of the family members who is inspired by the spirits during the ceremony. At th

at moment, he or she is between the world of the living and the world of the dead. This was when I was chosen to be the next herbalist in the family. My grandfather, too, was selected by the spirits as he told me. When I was selected, I was too young to understand anything. Instead, the family kept it to themselves and told me later when I was able to understand.

When it was discovered that I was to become the family's next herbalist, my grandfather began to work with me very closely. We went together to collect herbs, separate them, boil the ones that were to treat patients. During the collection, he showed me the different types of herbs and their combination to treat patients with different bone problems. At times we went far in the bush to collect herbs. While going, we collected herbs and hid them alongside the road. At times, he would call to me, "Dorbor." (My legal name, meaning, 'herb' or 'bush' in the Lorma language) "can you remember the places we are hiding the herbs?" I usually said I could remember the places, and then he would say, "You will pick them as we are coming back." Sometimes I did not remember some places, thinking that we had not yet reached the place. As soon as I passed any one of the herbs we had hidden, he called me and said, "You didn't remember this one!" I would tell him, "I thought it was still ahead of us." Therefore, he used to walk ahead on our way out, and I would lead on our way back.

Western Education

As a result of the Liberian civil crisis, I did not have the opportunity to continue my traditional education with my grandfather, and so my interest gradually decreased for traditional education throughout the long war. During the crisis, I was forcibly taken away by the rebels and turned into a child soldier, and through the violence, I realized I still had an interest in learning how to save lives. I was keenly interested in watching and helping combat medics treat wounded soldiers. For me, this signified that my desire to become a doctor was influenced spiritually, and that my real-life experiences confirmed the traditional divination that I was to become a healer.

After the civil crisis, I continued to go to school with the ambition of fulfilling my dream of becoming a medical doctor in order to help my people, community, and my country at large. With this mindset, I worked vigorously to complete high school at one of Liberia's best institutions, Rick's Institute. Completing high school became the steppingstone to my dreams. I started working as a first aid volunteer for the school football team and a community peacebuilding team sponsored by the NGO everyday gandhis in Voinjama, Liberia. Based on my curiosity about first aid, everyday gandhis bought me an American First Aid handbook and a first aid kit. They started to provide me with available drugs for common illnesses such as cold, headache, fever, pain, etc. The entire Looking Town Community in Voinjama and everyday gandhis' local staff came to me for treatment.

My ambition increased during my high school days when I was in university, studying Biology. In my country, you need to obtain a first degree in Biology or Chemistry before going to medical school. While going through the four years of university study, I kept in mind that obtaining a bachelor's degree in Biology is not enough for me, and that is not my dream! I have always dreamed of studying abroad and coming back and serving the same community I came from. To achieve this, I needed to work hard to maintain my grade point average (GPA) at least three points or above, so that international schools would find it easier to accept me into their institution. This was my task and responsibility. Unfortunately, though I graduated from Cuttington University in Liberia with one of the highest GPA's, I am still seeking my graduate medical degree. I am eager and open to any scholarship or sponsorship to achieve my dream and my destiny to make the world a healthier place by easing people's suffering and helping to keep them healthy. In doing so, my passion is to integrate traditional and western knowledge into a practical, integrated way of healing.

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