The Journey to Becoming Dr Frater: Part 2
When I first came to England from Jamaica, I couldn’t find a school so my mum bought me exercise books from WHSmith. In her mind, there was no way I was going to stay at home and not do school work. I reached a point where I was going through an exercise book a day. Although we didn’t have much disposable income, I cannot remember not having a book to work through. By the time I started school, I was reading, writing and doing maths above my age group.
As much as I was academically able, I really struggled to settle in school. Those first few years in particular were tough because I really missed Jamaica. On top of that, I had a stammer that affected my willingness to go and make new friends, contribute in class or speak up in conversation. When I was 10 years old, I got a speech therapist and worked incredibly hard with her for a year. Slowly but surely – sentence by sentence – my stammer lessened. This is definitely up there with one of my proudest achievements. From a young boy who struggled to put a sentence together, I have now done international keynotes, panel discussions, workshops, lectures, documentary appearances, news appearances and a TEDx talk. Who would’ve thought it?!
School was a tumultuous journey. I mentioned before that I was academically able but that does not tell the full story. I had over 300 detentions ( a conservative estimate) from Year 7 - 11 and more exclusions than I care to detail. I only realise it now, after the fact, but whilst I was getting endless complaints/punishments from my school, my mum was writing letters holding them to account and asking for clear reasoning for the detentions and/or exclusions I was getting. This was really important, particularly when I was younger because having someone who – without fully understanding the education system – could advocate for me meant that some of my teachers were a little less ridiculous. It doesn’t mean they didn’t try though.
I remember two incidents clearly.
The first was on an uneventful afternoon. This particular teacher walked past my desk and then circled back to tell me, and I quote “why are you wearing white socks? I thought you wanted to be a doctor?” To this day I do not know what this means, and thankfully even at the time, I knew how ridiculous this statement was. I do wonder though what would have happened if I had taken it to heart and began worrying about my socks, my attire and in turn my appearance when leaving the house for school. What if I began to focus on this instead of my studies and attached my worth of becoming a doctor to the kinds of things I wore? I call teachers life makers because as an educator, you have the power and the duty to help your students fulfil their potential. The consequences of not doing that can alter the lives of students and their self-image irreversibly.
The second ridiculous thing I heard was when I initially moved from my high school to another college. I was really excited because I had my heart set on going to this college. When I got in, I was elated. I have to start by saying, objectively, I had good grades at GCSE. On the first day of college, we all had 1-1 meetings with our tutor. We chatted and I let her know about what my aspirations were. She said to me “you might want to reconsider Medicine because most people that apply have at least 6 A*s”. I said “thank you for your time” and enrolled at my old sixth form the next day. Although, as I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t confident that I would become a doctor, that was for me to decide and I didn’t like that they were trying to limit the options I had for my life.
Both these examples are very small but powerful examples of how important it is to speak life into the dreams of young (read: all) people. There is a great TEDx talk by Vee Kativhu that talks about the importance of words on young people – it articulates how I feel better than I can. You can watch it here
On the other hand, I have also had teachers that reallyyyyy tried for me. My first teacher – a Jamaican lady – became my school mum when I first came to England. The (late) deputy head at my second primary school moved me to her class to make sure that I did not get expelled. Form tutors in high school that took the pastoral part of their role very seriously. My GCSE English teacher would do extra English lessons with me before school (before I knew I was dyslexic). The sixth form staff gave me all the resources they could find to assist my application to university. So many people who had a positive impact on my life and sometimes – literally – held my hand throughout.
One of the opportunities I got from sixth form was The Amos Bursary. This life-changing organisation gave me mentors that were medical students and doctors. They provided me with networking opportunities. They provided me with the soft skills I needed to thrive. Crucially, they allowed me to go to Gambia for 3 months in my gap year. Not only did it give me an incredibly unique experience to talk about in my personal statement but the people I met there taught me the importance of service and being nice to be nice. This completely reframed how I viewed service and the role I would play in the world.
This was the start of everything to come next in Part 3. It made me realise that I couldn’t just leave medical school with the degree and it taught me how to prioritise service in everything that I did. I’ll be detailing the plans I had before medical school, the highs and the real lows of my medical school experience, as well as some gems about thriving in the spaces you’re in.