Med student makes it out of the school of hard knocks

Med student makes it out of the school of hard knocks

By Alicia Dunkley-Willis
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, November 16, 2020

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Balancing a high school and university journey with a once vibrant mother downed by cancer and then Parkinson's disease easily makes Kimberley Scott the best pick for class valedictorian for the school of hard knocks, if there was one, but she will instead graduate The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, with a bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery (MBBS) degree this month-end.

The road, marked by emotional distress, financial turmoil, all but knocked the fight from the 24-year-old, the second child of four for her parents, but for those in-the-nick-of-time breakthroughs, she told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

The last of those came in her final year when $1.4 million stood between Scott and her degree. That final hurdle was cleared through the assistance of the National Commercial Bank (NCB) Foundation, evoking another flood of tears; it was the end of a long road.

Recalling her journey, the past student of William Knibb Memorial High School in Trelawny said her family had been fairly comfortable until tragedy hit midway.

“My mother had a business, and it was kind of a short notice when she was diagnosed with cancer. Initially, she kept it from us and I just heard that mommy has to go to the hospital for a surgery and she wouldn't be home for about two weeks,” Scott shared.

As her illness progressed, the employees deserted the business and it sank. They went into further financial decline when the company to which Scott's father was employed as a haulage contractor also began experiencing difficulties.

“We didn't have that support from relatives in that time. I had to take up additional responsibilities at home, I had to take care of my younger siblings who were in primary school at the time. I had to ensure they got up in the mornings for school, that they got their homework done and then I had to manage myself preparing for [exams] and all of that,” she shared.

If she wanted to throw a pity party or a tantrum, she could not.

“I wasn't able to process all that because I had to be strong for my younger siblings. Sometimes I would have to sit up at nights with my brother in my arms. I just couldn't cry. Sometimes I was very upset, it was just an overwhelming feeling,” she reflected.

Urged by her family not to give up on her dreams of a career in medicine, Scott began her sojourn at The UWI's Montego Bay Campus in 2014.

“By then, mom was out of her recovery period and had done her chemotherapy, she was put on oral therapy and she was able to help herself. By that time daddy and my younger siblings who had just started high school were there,” Scott recalled. Things were levelling off, or so she thought.

Third year saw her on campus at Mona.

“I started having some challenges, not having all my textbooks, all my equipment to use, like on the wards. There were days when I had no food. I would give my siblings my lunch money. There were times when I was deregistered and I couldn't find the money,” she lamented.

And when she thought it could not get worst, it did. Her mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's, a brain disease that manifests in shaking, stiffness and difficulty with walking, balancing and co-ordination.

“We thought it had been over after the battles with cancer. First it rained, then it poured. It was just a lot of things happening. I remember days of depression, I closed my windows, turned off my lights, I wanted to be in complete darkness. I didn't want anybody to talk to me,” Scott mused.

Good friends and a best friend at this point were her saving grace.

“My friends would just come and shake me up and say, 'You have to brush this off.' I remember when I needed a laptop. Mine had crashed and I had quizzes online and I couldn't go to the library to use the ones there. My best friend bought me a new laptop,” she told the Observer.

It was a virtual obstacle course, said Scott, who is now an intern at the Cornwall Regional Hospital in the western city.

“There was another year when I had half the money and couldn't find the rest, and I got a bursary of $1.2 million, I paid off the tuition but in fourth year the difficulties got worse, I was deregistered after I completed first semester,” she said. The Student's Loan Bureau, which was loaning her $625,000 annually, requested that she found a new guarantor (because of her mother's diagnosis) for them to increase her benefit to $1 million.

“I couldn't get anybody. I went and pleaded to them and I got through. I got the $1 million but I started having additional difficulties. I had to take time off from school, I was at home,” Scott who was no longer able to reside on hall shared. She applied to several funding sources with no luck.

“My eldest sister worked at a credit union, but they were saying they didn't give money to medical students. That was a problem as well; most institutions do not give med students money,” Scott who said she didn't qualify for bank loans either, told the Observer.

NCB, however, stepped up to the plate through a programme with the university, Scott said. Through that initiative, she was able to settle a portion of her second semester tuition.

“I completed second semester of my final year but then I would have to pay off the other part of my tuition so that I could obtain my MBBS. The school fee was $3.6 million and I had $1.4 million remaining. That was the money standing between me and the MBBS. I still went to class, I just wouldn't be able to sit an exam.

“I continued going to school, I was still doing my work, I prayed and cried and cried and prayed and cried and studied and cried a lot,” she said wryly.

“By then I couldn't afford to stay on campus, but my best friend had a room so she allowed me to stay in the room. So when she was on rotation she would choose external hospitals and allow me to stay in the room,” Scott recounted.

She again searched high and low for assistance, to no avail, while her degree seemed to once again evade her grip.

“I got a chance to do my exam. They said, 'Okay, because you have already basically finished, what we will do is hold your degree and whenever you have finished paying you can graduate and get your degree,' “ she told the Observer.

“So I started working in January, saving up the money, living on the bare minimum, saving, saving, saving. I had saved a good amount and I decided I would take a loan to bring it up to the amount. So I said let me just go and check the system to see the full amount I owed and when I looked I saw zero dollars and zero cents,” Scott recalled.

“I said let me log out and log back in, and when I did, I still saw that, so I'm like OK. I started crying, I cried so hard, I was so shocked, I called my best friend, I called my mother and my sister and my brothers. I looked again and I saw Gratitude Fund and I am saying I didn't even apply,” she said exultantly.

That was the lucky break she needed.

“NCB really helped me and I can only imagine what other students felt when they found out. When somebody helps to make your dreams a reality. My glad bag buss,” she laughed.

The university was the recipient of a $25-million grant through the NCB Foundation's newly minted Gratitude Fund to assist students who were having financial difficulties completing their final year. More than 220 beneficiaries, including Scott, were recipients during the handing over ceremony on Tuesday, November 10, 2020.

“When I came for the handover ceremony last Tuesday I picked up my degrees. I am going to take my graduation picture on the 27th [of November],” Scott disclosed, expressing gratitude to several university administrators, including the management of the Office of Student Financing.

She said the money she had saved is being diverted towards her siblings' tuitions.

“My younger sister and brother are now at university. My brother is in second year here, my sister is at the university in Guyana,” said Scott.

Now on her last rotation, which ends in December, she will begin working as a senior house officer in January and is considering paediatric surgery, plastics and reconstructive or orthopaedics for her postgraduate studies, while paying off her student loan.

The MBBS Programme, which spans five years, is divided into three preclinical and two clinical years. Upon successful completion of the course of study, graduates must follow a 12-month internship to be eligible for certification by the Medical Council and full registration to practise medicine.


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