Mat and I recently attended the annual AIDS Gala in his community. It was to raise funds for the Tsepong Clinic in Lesotho, run by OHAfrica. We met the founder of the Masai Centre, Dr. Anne-Marie Zadjlik. It was interesting to see how family physicians might incorporate HIV and HIV disease care into their practices.
More interesting was meeting the executive director of an organization called Student Reach. This is a young person who started this non-profit at age 16. I have been looking for a glimmer of inspiration. I think I saw it last night. Mat leaned over to me and said, in the course of listening to this young person tell the table about his work, “you should help them”.
Since my friend Stephanie introduced me to the idea of the ‘impostor’ syndrome I can’t help but keep this in mind. While we are being brainwashed to be doctors there is a certain sense of entitlement and arrogance that develops. I have seen within me a certain urge developing to gain control of all situations I am put in. To present myself in a powerful way, to let my credentials be known. A certain superiority complex. All of these urges are accompanied by a deeper understanding of my own confusion, my own lack of experience, lack of training and lack of mentors.
Around physicians it does not serve me to evoke this deeper understanding. To admit ‘lack of experience’ in the global health realm to a physician working on ‘global health’ is to open yourself up to be treated like a child from then on.
But really understanding your own lack of knowledge is incredibly powerful. Around physicians I do this quietly, and try to ask articulate, pointed questions that bring out all of our confusion and lack of experience. You can rarely openly suggest that a physician is not the expert on everything they think they are. Even the superficially humble physicians – they have still been trained in the power system.
But then sometimes you find yourself outside of the physician global health paradigm, like I did last night. I found myself chatting to this guy from Student Reach. I asked him what help they needed. I told him about some of the things that I do, and some of the networks of people that might be useful to him, that I could connect him to. Power, power, power.
He says to me, “really it would be great just to talk. I could use a talk just about where I’m headed and where you think you’re headed.”
It was the understanding of lack of understanding. It shut down the power-mongerer in me and brought out the listener and the learner. It brought out the part of me that tries to see the different experiences, different understandings of global health all as equals.
It made me look straight at the fact that I have chosen a path that forced me, over the last three years, to prove to ‘global health’ physicians around me that I know as much as them, if not more than them, about ‘global health’. Being able to prove this much has gotten me into positions, onto boards, committees, gotten me speaking engagements. But sadly after the fact, many of these opportunities left me feeling flat.
Because it is the honest, open, emotional discussion about elements of global health that help me to grow. It is embracing that part of me that doesn’t know but wants to know. It is surrounding myself with those people and communities that listen and keep learning, exploring the spiral of knowledge-building that keeps us getting more confused, asking more questions, becoming more thoughtful with each other. It is the relinquishment of power.