I AM that I AM

“They gonna love me for my ambition. Easy to dream a dream but what’s harder than living?” Wale

PART 1

I’ve always had goals. I’ve always worked hard. I think I’m attracted to the grind. If it’s easy, I’m bored. I feel like every path I choose, it’s the hardest. You know how Bell’s father got lost in the woods and instead of choosing the open path with a promising end, he chooses the gloomy one… even when his conscious (his horse) tells him that’s probably not a good idea… But he found Bell a husband…. Yea, see that’s me!  I’ll choose the more difficult path. I’ll say yes to things I never even thought I would do. Because I know it’ll make a better me (and a more tired me, but oh well).

For example, in college when everyone else was choosing easier classes to increase their GPA, I chose non-mandatory classes based on my level of interest instead of level of rigor (some may call that stupid). I took an English writing class, that half the class dropped because the Professor was militant technical. And I knew the class was going to kick my behind. But I stayed, because I knew I had a lot to learn. And learn I did! My God, did I learn a lot about grammar. I struggled so much in that class. I would get so angry by the grades that I received. But, the Professor noticed all my hard work. She noticed my dedication.  By the end of the course she believed in me 100% and became one of the few Professors at Hopkins that saw and believed in my potential. And that’s exactly the stuff that drives me. Passion! (Disclaimer… don’t expect this blog to be grammatically correct. I promise you it won’t be… cheers!)

I know what I want. Always have. And I go after it until I get it. Simple enough.

Well “simple” ended in medical school.  My life was rocked in every direction possible. Love life… self esteem… my life became ruled by fear. 90% of my surroundings told me that I wasn’t going to succeed. As I was interviewing for medical schools (and already had at least three interviews set) an Academic Advisor at UPENN told me I would never get into medical school… I would never get interviews. Even when I told her I had interview invitations, she basically told me to stop applying. And crazy to even believe that she was a minority too and had no words of encouragement for me. Needless to say, I didn’t apply to UPENN. Obviously it wasn’t the environment for me. But that interaction was a precursor to what I would experience as a student in medical school.

When God works… he works and you just have to trust it. He had a reason to send me to Temple and as I look back on my experience, I know that it definitely prepared me for the future that I see for myself… a double board certified Family and Addiction Medicine Physician, community leader and medical business administrator…. maybe something in medical/urban policy too… see I dream big… I choose the more treacherous path.

 

PART 2

White Coat Ceremony

So Temple Medical School…. I think God sent me an Angel the first day I stepped on the medical school campus. His name was Mr. Whitaker. He helped to run the Minority Retention and Recruitment Department. I remember sitting in his office, surrounded by old books and papers. In his cool black man… I got it going on manner (the realness that I appreciated), he said to me:

“Now some people here may feel that you won’t succeed, that you won’t be able to do the work. That’s bullshit [maybe he didn’t curse, but he wanted to]. You can do this work. I have no doubt about that.”

And why would he or anyone else doubt me? I graduated Johns Hopkins with a 3.3 GPA (probably would be higher if I choose easier classes), plus I was eligible for graduation a semester early, plus I got the highest recommendation honors that Hopkins gives when applying to medical school. But nonetheless, I got in and…

Work I did! Work we all did. You don’t graduate medical school by being lazy. It’s a hard road for us all. But it was a hard road plus I was surrounded by people that didn’t think I was good enough or that my knowledge was lacking plus I was in an environment that I felt lacked the respect and compassion for the people it served. A few times throughout medical school I was randomly questioned by classmates about how tough it must be for me to watch how some Physicians treat their patients (my community). And it was tough. It was angering. There’s a real reason to why minorities dislike the medical community. And I watched their distrust grow just about every day.

But don’t get me wrong, there were some amazing Physicians at my medical school… that had compassion, that knew how to talk to people, that knew how to listen, that saw people as people instead of a medical condition and that were extremely intelligent.  And I learned so much from them!

BUT… the overall environment (for me), sent me to an uncomfortable place in the shadows.  One can’t thrive in medical school by being in the shadows. Once I was there it became a continuous uphill battle. That battle started 2nd year as we began to shadow our advisors in the hospital. My advisor was a nice lady… a compassionate, socially oriented Physician. But she didn’t know how to advise me. Two things stand out the most from our few sessions together: (1) No matter what I did, I would always be behind (2) Never work with Psych majors as they will try to analyze you and then report to your advisor. My advisor literally said to me during my Internal Medicine clerkship that my senior resident was trying to analyze me but was having a hard time figuring me out. Well damn right! That wasn’t her job. I was there to learn, not be diagnosed. And if you’re looking at me like something is wrong with me, how are you creating an environment where I can excel?? I know my advisor thought she was doing the right thing… but that was the last time I saw her.

The only thing that was wrong with me was me feeling that I didn’t belong.  That feeling lasted throughout my entire medical school career.  Quite a few times I found myself in the offices of Attendings, crying as they insisted I knew nothing and that I wasn’t working hard enough.  And those were the situations that caused me to become more quiet… to not speak up (even when I was 100% sure that I knew the answer)… to become stunned with ‘pimping’ on rounds… I was afraid. I felt if I couldn’t bring you perfection, I couldn’t bring you anything that would show my worth. So I worked hard. I did everything every other student was doing, but I did it in the background. Extremely detrimental to my success as a medical student! But it was less stressful there.

Every time I encountered the opposition, I remembered Mr. Whitaker and knew I would be just fine. Mr. Whitaker actually became one of my real Angels, as he died before I graduated.  But God did send me others that knew that it wasn’t knowledge that I lacked… that understood that it was more an environmental indifference and definitely a difficulty in taking standardized exams. And I thank them for their encouragement.

 

PART 3

My biggest fear was always the standardized exam. When I began to analyze why, I realized it was a problem in high school with the SAT… in college with the MCAT… in medical school with Shelf exams, STEP 1 and STEP 2. Part of the issue was anxiety and part was not knowing the test taking skills needed to excel at these tests. Again, self-doubt became my worse enemy.  For STEP 1, I took an extended prep course and passed the exam but became off track for my original projected graduation date. Extremely taxing on my spirit.  STEP 2, I studied on my own… killed the practice exam. Like crazy killed it and then failed my exam by 2 points. And the passing score had just been changed.  If I had taken it a few months prior, I would have passed. Again, taxing on my spirit. Retook it and passed… thank God, whatever, I don’t care, it’s done!  I experienced similar difficulty with 2 shelf exams.

So ultimately, medical school knocked me down to the lowest point I’ve been in my life.  But, I know what I want. Always have. And I go after it until I get it.  And I got it… I graduated. But now imagine having such a difficult time in medical school and then being asked to make a short speech during graduation about one of your Angels. I had many reservations! One of those reservations was me not feeling that I deserved to be on that stage. How crazy is that? As hard as I worked for that degree, I didn’t think I deserved to stand with my peers. Never in my life have I lacked so much self-esteem. But I said yes.  And trembling, I did it.

I Matched to the Chestnut Hill Family Practice Residency Program.  Trust in God… I ended up exactly where I needed to be.  Now I’m always going to be a reserved person… that I don’t think I can change and mainly because I don’t want to.  Put me in an environment that believes in me, that supports me… there’s nothing for me to do except be the ‘GAP’ that I grew up believing I was.  Side story… in middle school, I covered all my textbooks with GAP paper shopping bags because I was the Great Ashanda Powell… nothing wrong with self-esteem as a child right? Of course my closest friends laughed at me.. haha. But it’s all good because in actuality I’m as humble as it gets.

Overall this program has really reignited my passion for medicine and my belief in myself.  Glory be to God! I took STEP 3… no time off… passed first try. Growth is a really good thing! I never thought about being anyone’s Chief Resident. My surrogate advisor gave me the push and my co-residents insisted that I would be good at it. I applied and the program chose my Co-Chief Resident and ME!.  I never imagined that I would be advising my peers.  And nice enough, I enjoy it.

What’s great is that I don’t feel that I need to prove myself to anyone. I can just be the hard worker that I am… and others take notice.  I don’t know where I would be without the great advisors that I have at the Hill, that see my potential before I do… and give me the needed nudge. I wouldn’t be an Addiction Medicine Fellow without the simple ‘why don’t you just do a fellowship?’ from Dr. Mahaniah. I wouldn’t be researching health administration MBAs without Dr. Karnik insisting I should get a MBA so she can work for me… like really, my Attending trusts me enough to work under me? Oh God! Or a higher up in the hospital pulling me aside (randomly) after a meeting and saying that I really should get my MBA because I have the leadership characteristics and personality to hold an administrative position and that I have a very promising future. Word? Me? You know how you believe something but don’t really believe it until someone else solidifies it for you?

Well obviously, I’m not lacking in intelligence/medical knowledge. Go figure.

I don’t take credit for any of this… I’m just living God’s will. He put me thru these experiences and more to show me that what’s for me.. what I work so hard for… is for me. He deserves the glory.  So when I hit a bump.. or a hill… or a wall… I know it’s for a reason.

If I want it… I go get it.

 

Hopkins Grad

Match Day

6 thoughts on “I AM that I AM

  1. SUPER inspiring ! Thanks for being so transparent and honest (REAL) . People need to know this. From the outside looking in, I never would have thought you struggled with ANY of the issues you wrote about. I am so proud of your accomplishments!

  2. So very blessed and words put together perfectly your struggle and growth will inspire so many others including myself… thank you for Sharing!!!

  3. I just want you to know this post was absolutely amazing and spoke to me on so so many levels! You are truly a gem Ashanda! And I didn’t know about the GAP book covers, hilarious! Your strength is encouraging and the fact that no one would ever have known because you’re so quiet and humble is even more encouraging! Keep sharing your story friend!

  4. GAP then and GAP now! You’ve always had that determine personality. What pre-schooler cuts their leg outside playing, washes out the cut, wraps it then go to her bedroom and lays on the floor with the cut leg positioned upright along side the bed saying mom “I’m ok, I washed it out and now elevating it”. You have always been GAP and always will be THE GAP. ❤️

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