From ‘very bad student’ to medical doctor
MONTEGO BAY, St James — Dr Doniel Bowen did not learn to read until age 10.
That, however, did not deter his success, as just 16 years later he was the valedictorian for the class of 2023 at the Anhui Medical University in China.
Dr Bowen credits his success to a decision taken by his mother, Valreen Bowen, when he was a boy.
“I was a very bad student and didn’t know how to read up to grade 5. My mom let me repeat grade 5 before heading to grade 6 because she was afraid I’d be a failure. This was a pivotal point that changed the trajectory of my life in academia. Within a year, not only could I read, but was also at the top of the class,” Dr Bowen told the Jamaica Observer.
“I vividly remember some teachers giving up on me. Surprisingly, many people didn’t believe I’d turn out to be anything. My mother who only had a primary school education is the smartest lady I know; I couldn’t let her down. The ‘Bowen’ name that my father had given me could not come to shame,” the 26-year-old added.
Hailing from a rural Hanover community and a low-income household, a young Bowen was determined to succeed and ultimately elevate himself and his family from their financial situation.
“I grew up in Chambers Pen, Hanover, in a very poor socio-economic household with my siblings, parents, and close relatives. I grew up with primarily siblings from my mother’s side,” he explained.
Dr Bowen continued, “My father, on the other hand, had several other children which I’d meet occasionally. Money was always scarce; however, I’ve never seen myself as poor, nor did I intend to live in that situation forever. My family life was very religious, having grown [nearby] the Chambers Pen Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
Additionally, the Cornwall College old boy’s fear of failure, coupled with a desire to not fall into the trap of “scamming” was enough to keep him on the right path.
“The other option was scamming. My mother developed renal failure on the day I got my GSAT results that I was going to Cornwall College. She believed if she could give us a good education, that all wouldn’t be lost. Therefore, I had to work hard. I was awarded Best CSEC results in 2014 at Cornwall College having earned 10 subjects — nine distinctions, and one credit. For CAPE, 10 subjects, [seven] distinctions, and [three] credits,” he said.
Dr Bowen further told the Sunday Observer that studying medicine has always been a passion.
“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, a surgeon to be exact. I’ve always been fascinated by the human body, biomechanics, and the complexity of how each part comes to create a whole,” said Bowen.
The decision to pursue his tertiary education overseas came as a result of his financial limitations, Dr Bowen said. He explained that simply “not having UWI money” motivated him to look at cheaper alternatives in China.
While his journey was not an easy one, just like his earlier life, Bowen explained that struggles were rampant throughout his six-year journey in medical school. He, however, is grateful for the support he received throughout school.
“It was a struggle every year. However, there would always be rays of hope with close friends and teachers who really cared for me. I grew to love China. Through pain, through hunger, through living in China at the epicentre of the pandemic, I wanted to give up many times,” he said.
“Surprisingly, it was not the schoolwork that [was] most challenging, but finding yourself in the crowd of influences and staying true to who you are. With the help of Hanover Charities, Aunt Terry, Kingsley, and Diane who believed in this country boy from Chambers Pen, I was able to complete medical school without any loans or debt like many other students. That I will forever be grateful for,” said Dr Bowen.
Happy to have completed this leg of the journey, Dr Bowen is honoured that he was valedictorian at his graduation.
“I feel at peace. I deserved this, I worked for it and I finally did it. I don’t feel better than anyone, but rather like the representative of a community of young doctors who want to work. We only hope to have the same advantages as other UWI medical graduates when we come back to Jamaica,” he said.
The young doctor shared that he will be continuing his education next month before journeying back to Jamaica to give his services.
“I plan to pursue orthopaedic surgery at Anhui Medical University this September. The struggle still continues, so if anyone would like to help or just say a word of encouragement, you can do so at my e-mail: email@example.com or Instagram: @drdonielbowen,” he said.
Reminiscing on his journey, Dr Bowen is encouraging other young people with similar backgrounds to push past their limitations.
“Ask for help, reach out to the media if you have to. Use your knowledge and passion to inspire others in supporting you. If they can’t, start a business, sell bag juice, do something, and never stop believing in your dream. Of course, don’t expect that things will be at your fingertips immediately, but with a little push and a little luck, your dreams may very well come true,” he said.