As a young girl, just five years old, Abigail Perreira knew that she wanted to be a doctor. Her mother was nurturing and supportive of her daughter’s passion for medicine, telling her on a daily basis that she could be anything “she wanted to be”. Today, Abigail is a third year medical student at UWI, reading for the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery programme and she is also a mother. She is about to “transition into the clinical aspect of medicine” and is looking forward to the next step with the support of her family, including her son, who is about to enter primary school.
Abigail was recently selected from thousands of entrants as a Scholar/ Essay winner by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) for her essay, “Harnessing Technology To Improve Health”. This then led to her being invited to attend the Harvard Medical School symposium, “Dialogues in Medicine”, in June in Boston, Massachusetts. The symposium focused on HIV/AIDS, Breast Cancer, Maternal and Foetal Health and Cardiology. On her return, Abigail spoke with Anna Walcott-Hardy about her plans for the future.
Seems to me that you have to be a special type of person to be a surgeon. To operate on someone, open a heart, cut into a limb, takes great confidence, training and technique. Would you agree?
I would definitely agree that for a profession as such, all these attributes are necessary. In addition, to becoming a professional in any field of work, these qualities are required.
How do you feel about winning this award – being published in this prestigious journal of medicine?
I feel truly blessed and winning has been enlightening to say the least. It has opened my eyes even more to the world of medicine and the importance of science, research and technology in further developing health care.
Can you tell us about your article and why do you think it was selected? It must have been quite an essay.
In my article, I discussed ways in which the doctor-patient relationship can be strengthened by incorporating the internet and social media for focused communication. In addition, I focused on new ways in which medical professionals at different hospitals around the globe can communicate especially by the creation of a worldwide secure database where [a] patient’s records can be accessed when required. As to the exact reason whereby my article was chosen, I’ll have to consult the editors at NEJM for that information.
Many in the medical profession are accused of choosing this field for monetary reward and social prestige, rather than for altruistic reasons. How can we ensure that our future medical practitioners are committed to the care of others and not just students selecting a career that will ensure they “make money”?
I can only answer for myself, knowing it has been a lifelong goal of mine to be in the medical field caring for others, and to actually be fulfilling this dream is a reward far greater than anything the world can offer. In addition I truly believe that love, empathy and passion are all necessary for administering proper health care to patients and these are traits that each student should possess.
Our hospitals are in dire need of professionals – are there areas where you think you can help to improve our national health care system?
I do believe that our nation’s hospitals are made up of excellent professionals right now, however I think we need some more to reduce the time the patient spends waiting to see a doctor.
Why did you decide to study medicine at UWI? What would you say are the strengths and challenges of the programme?
Trinidad is my home and it was just natural for me to study here at UWI. In addition, I knew the medical education offered is great. The strengths of the programme will be the fact that it is well-rounded and all aspects of medicine are incorporated from the very start. So far I have not encountered any challenges with the programme especially since education is student-centered at this institution.
Do you have mentors at UWI who have inspired you along the way?
Every one of my lecturers has been a mentor to me. They all have been gracious and willing to impart their wisdom and knowledge of medicine both inside and out of the classroom.
So you’re enjoying university life?
I am having the best time of my life! UWI is great and I thoroughly enjoy every part of my time here. Time flies when you’re having fun. From the moment I entered the MBBS programme to now, all my lecturers have been truly dedicated in providing us with an exceptional education. My peers are really like family away from home, someone is always willing to be of assistance whenever you need it. I am also very grateful with all the opportunities available for young people at UWI.
After graduation, what are your plans?
After medical school, I will definitely consider specialising, however I wish to explore all there is to offer before making a final decision.
You can visit http://nejm200.nejm.org/essay/harnessing-technology-to-improvehealth/ to read Abigail’s winning essay.