Pursuing dream leads to self-discovery for young local doctor

by Rajiv M. Tejura, M.D.

This is a story is of my unique journeys during the past few months.

I am 27 and have lived in Monroe since I was 6. I am a recent graduate of Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) in Dominica, an island in the eastern Caribbean.

I did 16 months of training on the island, four months in Miami, Fla., and 28 months of clinical training in world-class medical centers throughout the five boroughs of New York City.

On June 6, in Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, I graduated from RUSM with a doctor of medicine degree and two days later I boarded a plane bound for South Africa.

Why South Africa?

Most graduates in my position are relieved to finally have some time off the fast-paced, high-stress life of medical school.

Understandably (and deservedly), they return home to their families, fire up the grill, have a party and basically chill out until their medical residencies begin.

I began on that path, but chose another trail. Late last year I applied for medical residency, however, halfway through, I withdrew in order to pursue a dream, the glory of which originally drove me toward a career in the medical profession.

My dream was to work in a medical clinic in Africa and assist as much as I could.

Like my colleagues, I was exhausted after medical school, however, I knew that once medical residency began, life would begin: work, marriage, children, private practice (all hopeful prospects, of course), so, I felt that now would be the best time to achieve my dream.

I researched for days trying to find a suitable, safe program to attend. The one I finally chose was African Impact, a medical and educational volunteer program based in Cape Town.

I signed up for two months and packed my bags. My family understood that this was something that I needed to do for myself, and I love and thank them for it.

off to South Africa

After boarding my international flight at Kennedy Airport, I arrived in Cape Town about 20 hours later.

I had done something like this only once before, but never this far, so, I was both emotionally excited and nervous, but kept my wits about me.

When I arrived and settled at the volunteer house, I found out that I was the only qualified physician to ever work in this young volunteer program.

There were four of us in the medical program, the others with no formal medical training but passionate with determined interest and eager to assist.

There is great need for medical attention there and an extreme shortage of physicians and other workers in health care in all fields.

Our base was in a small town called Fish Hoek, some 45 minutes away from Cape Town.

I worked for eight weeks as a volunteer physician in two nearby clinics: Masiphumelele and Oceanview. Both were located in extremely impoverished townships outside Cape Town in dire need of medical personnel, supplies and medication.

HIV/AIDS is a major problem in this community. In fact, government estimates from 2007 report that 40 to 45 percent of the inhabitants of Masiphumelele had the disease.

At Masiphumelele clinic, I admitted, diagnosed and treated patients under supervision of clinic nurses for the first week and alone for the next seven weeks.

I provided antenatal care for expecting mothers, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, counseling for family planning, administered injections and pills for birth control and provided general pediatric care and treatment.

At Oceanview clinic I was the only physician on staff. I admitted, diagnosed, and treated adult patients in the general clinic.

I also provided medical care for patients with tuberculosis, pneumonia, gynecological issues, skin infection, pain control, hypertension, etc.

A different world

Medicine in South Africa is different from the way it is practiced in the United States.

Because of South Africa’s national shortage of physicians, the government has turned to nurses to play a larger part in patient care. They take on the roles of physicians, nurses and pharmacists, make house calls and perform emergency transport in case an ambulance is not available.

The nurses were a pleasure to work with and are extremely knowledgeable. One nurse who stood above the rest was Sister Avril Childs, who served as my mentor at Masiphumelele clinic.

She taught me about life in the township, what types of patient cases to expect and techniques for drawing and testing patient’s blood.

The experience on the medical mission was both amazing and unique.

When I began, I was concerned about contracting disease from patients with HIV/AIDS via needle-stick injury as I drew blood for testing, but as I saw more and more patients, my skill for drawing blood improved and nervousness subsided.

Having just qualified as a physician and then being placed into a position where everyone relies on you and your decisions, it was difficult to cope at first. However, after a week of working hard and staying on top of things, everything seemed to fall into place.

the end of my experience, I had cared for more than 250 patients, at least a third of which had HIV/AIDS, and my confidence as a physician grew exponentially.

the call to volunteer

This adventure was a soul-searching journey that not only helped the individuals I cared for, but myself as well. When placed in this real-world situation, I thoroughly enjoyed what I did on a daily basis, and came to the realization that this field of medicine is my calling.

This experience has pointed me toward a career in internal medicine, for which I am applying currently.

I wrote this piece to point out that volunteering can be rewarding for those one helps as well as for the individual themselves.

I was fortunate to be able to go to Africa and use my skills to help the local community; but, one does not have to travel far to do something like this. Help can start at home.

In these difficult times with high unemployment rates, incessant gasoline price increases and general economic downturn, many in our local community are struggling to survive and there is a dire need for help.

If you have the means, volunteering a small portion of your time can make such a big difference. It may seem small on an individual level, but remember that you are not alone. Together, as a community united, we can move mountains.


Dr. Rajiv Tejura is the son of Manhar and Sandhya Tejura. His father is a Monroe cardiologist and chief of staff at Mercy Memorial Hospital. He graduated from Maumee Valley Country Day School, Toledo, in 1999 and the University of Michigan in 2003, earning degrees in biology and biology and classical archaeology. He has two siblings.

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