Fear is temporary, but regret is forever. That was the slogan for the Bloukrans bungee jumping advertisements that really got me to just go for it. Prior to arriving there I really did not think I would actually jump off the highest bungee in the world! Once there however, I just thought back to all my initial fears of what being in South Africa might be like, and how none of my worries had proven to be true. Just as I had conquered those initial worries and worked so hard to overcome the obstacles it took to be interning in Africa, I felt I could not pass up the opportunity to conquer another fear. I decided to jump. The first 2 seconds felt like the most terrifying moments of my life but afterwards came a strange calm followed by an extreme adrenaline rush. I was on the top of the world. I felt that if I had conquered that initial fear, I could really do anything I set my mind to.
During the ten weeks I spent in South Africa on rotations at hospitals, clinics and outside of work I found that the moments where I learned the most were when I placed myself outside my comfort zone and took leaps of faith with uncertainties. Cape Town and Durban were not what I imagined before arriving there but far exceeded any expectations I had. I learned to plan for things to go as unplanned and embrace the moments of discomfort. There were often little fears I had to overcome when I felt hesitant about approaching a doctor, answering questions during ward rounds, or starting up conversations with patients in my limited Zulu or Afrikaans. Despite my initial hesitations, I always felt it was well worth it when, to my surprise, it was such simple acts like those that taught me something valuable or that sparked long-lasting relationships.
South Africa taught me a great deal about the human spirit and its resilience in the face of challenges. From patients, I learned the importance of compassion and kind gestures in the practice of medicine. I had the great fortune of hearing different patient’s stories about the hardships they endured from illness and how they still managed to smile each day. From compassionate doctors, I learned that despite the difficulties of the job, the patient always came first and they would ensure to treat every patient no different than they would their own mother. Each person I encountered during my stay had their own story and I felt so privileged to learn about their rich culture and hear firsthand accounts of the apartheid era. In the final week of my internship I was present for the important moment in history of Nelson Mandela’s passing. As I joined a memorial celebration in his honor, I could not help but look on with great admiration at such a strong country that had managed to overcome a tumultuous history but was still moving forward in the unity that Madiba left behind.
Being back home for about two weeks now, I still feel deeply inspired by the people I met on my internship and very grateful for the many learning experiences. I have had time to reflect on my trip from the initial difficulties of making it happen, to actually arriving at the country, the sad goodbyes, and all the wonderful moments in between. I feel more passionate than ever to pursue a career in medicine and I know that everything I learned in the hospitals, clinics and outside of the workplace will be of great value to establishing my career goals as a physician. One of the many great things this internship has left me with is a newfound courage to face the many fears and challenges of life. I have learned that it is often from the moments of discomfort or unfamiliarity where we gain the most insight and build the strongest character. South Africa left me with many strong and resilient people to look up to and many experiences to draw my courage from to face any fear.