Linstead girl's leap of faith pays off
Dayna Palmer completes medical school with honours at age 22
PALMER... I only applied for one programme, one university, and one scholarship

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Dayna Palmer took a leap of faith when she applied for The University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Scholarship as a young girl attending Immaculate Conception High School in St Andrew.

With nothing but her ambition and a will to succeed, Palmer knew that she had to land this opportunity if her dream of attending medical school should ever come to fruition.

Now five years later, a 22-year-old Palmer is one of five UWI students who were awarded the Dr John Hall Prize, having completed her studies with honours in medicine and therapeutics.

Palmer told the Jamaica Observer that this would not be a reality without this scholarship as it was her only "plan" for pursuing a tertiary education. Though it is usually encouraged to never place all of your eggs in one basket, the young woman was determined to make medical school a reality and this seemed like her only way out.

Dr Dayna Palmer after one of her many violin gigs during medical school.

The Linstead, St Catherine, native worked tirelessly at this goal and was relieved after learning that she was selected to pursue a medical degree without the burden of tuition costs.

"I only applied for one programme, one university, and one scholarship. That was pretty much my plan for university, so it was very anxiety-inducing [during] the last part of sixth form when all the grades were coming in," she explained.

Palmer continued: "I was wondering if this was going to work out because I didn't have a back-up plan or a second option, but it did. I got the scholarship and then I moved from Linstead to be closer to UWI. The UWI Open Scholarship covered all of my tuition, accommodation, and they also gave me a meal allowance."

Acknowledging that this opportunity has given her the well-needed support to further her education, Palmer stated that it was through another past student that she learned of this scholarship.

"I remember the first time I heard about this scholarship through our big sister programme at Immaculate. One of the big sisters came back and she was talking about how she applied for this scholarship that paid for everything…and I said that I am going to get this scholarship. I didn't know how, but that was my plan," she said.

Palmer noted that a love she developed for playing the violin during high school also went on to play a major role during her tertiary career.

"The other thing that I took a liking to was music, and I started music in the seventh grade. However, when I got to university and started med school there was not much time for me to play the violin. I also didn't have access to an instrument at the time, but at UWI I got a violin to play with in their orchestra. I also started playing with the Harmonic Orchestra of Jamaica and then I started playing on my own at weddings, award ceremonies, and funerals," she said.

"I didn't want to take money from my parents, so in addition to the scholarship, that is what took me through med school. I didn't have to worry about paying for school or borrowing anything. I did my little violin gigs to keep me sustained," she told the Observer.

With medical school now out of the way, the young doctor is looking towards starting a career in the community health sector, having recognised her love for a more intimate and interactive approach with her patients.

"I didn't know what specialty I liked…until I did my final year elective and my final year community health clerkship. Community health is basically working as a general practitioner at the health centres. It is the first point of contact for a lot of people and I found out that I really liked that," she said.

Her long-term goal, she told the Observer, is to transition to integrated medicine.

"Integrated medicine is the bridge between conventional medicine and alternative medicine…like a holistic approach, nutrition, sleep. I see myself as an integrated medicine practitioner in whatever specialty I plan to do in the future," Dr Palmer said.

In the meantime, the young doctor is relishing in her success after becoming the first medical doctor in her family. This, she said, has brought intense happiness to the members of her family.

"They are really proud of me. My parents are proud of me, and my family has sent their congratulations. It is a big deal for them," she said.

As for herself, Palmer is still learning to accept the greatness she has achieved by completing medical school at the age of 22.

"I feel really grateful that it worked out. I am kind of an overachiever and I downplay what I do, but I was talking to one of my friends during the week after med school. He was telling me that I finished one of the most difficult programmes without debt and also doing pretty well," she said.

The young doctor added: "I was not thinking about it like that. I was thinking about what grade I could have gotten and how much better I could have done. When I looked at it from a bigger picture, I think I did pretty well. I think I did my best work in my final year, I got straight As. I am very proud of my younger self as well as my current self."

BY ROCHELLE CLAYTON Observer staff reporter

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