Surprised at the offer to start her medical education one semester early, Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM) first-semester student Toni Dickson jumped at the chance, stating she was eager to start and comfortable entering a country that she believes has honed pandemic safety protocols.
“I was ready to get out of my comfort zone, get hands-on experience in the anatomy lab and meet my professors during office hours,” she explained. “I was a little nervous to travel but the transition was so easy — the RUSM staff was super helpful, and the Barbados residents were welcoming. I feel safer here because of the strict COVID-19 rules.” Toni said she and her peers recently dined at a local restaurant but not before their temperatures were taken and their names and addresses were recorded, to reconnect in case contact tracing was needed. “I know it’s probably more manageable to do that here because it’s a smaller population, but their effort gives you an extra level of reassurance that they’re doing everything they can to help prevent the spread.”
Toni said it’s been stress-free to travel around the island because each place she’s traveled — on and off campus — has been stocked with sanitizer stations and signage that reminds citizens to maintain social distancing and wear facemasks, which are still required both indoors and outdoors. She also appreciates the RUSM Safe App, which features a daily health assessment to help monitor symptoms, and in-person academic offerings. “We still get hands-on learning and a study room to meet with others, but we also know they care about ensuring that we’re as safe as possible.”
Giving Back to Underserved
Crediting her father for the nudge into the medical field, Toni fondly recalls a leadership camp at Rush University Medical School in Chicago she attended in 10th grade. “I learned the ins and outs of medical school and what it’s like to be a doctor. It really intrigued me to pursue medicine.” That experience prompted her to become a nurse’s assistant and scribe while attending Cleveland State University. A physician she collaborated with at the clinic and university hospital motivated and inspired her to help the underserved population. “He treated people who didn’t have insurance because he believed everyone should have a right to healthcare. It lit a fire under me that I also want to help change the dynamic of medicine so those who don’t have access or resources can be treated with the best possible care.”
Toni has already established a supportive friend group after only one month on the island. “We met right after quarantine and bonded right away. We’re going to be friends for life. It’s so different with virtual because you don’t get that interaction. This is so much better.” She and her new comrades are trying out new eateries when Toni isn’t busy practicing yoga or scoping out coffee shops.
A Cleveland, OH native, Toni spent much of her childhood playing soccer, basketball and volleyball and creating memories with her close-knit family. She was attracted to RUSM because of its academic reputation and diversity. “There is such a wide variety of ethnicities and diversities, unlike anywhere I’ve seen in the US.”
Though medical school is more challenging than anticipated, Toni said she is embracing the adventure. “There is so much information coming at once, but I’ve already learned to take it one day at a time, so I never get super overwhelmed. We all need to remember to take breaks. Even if it seems like you’re behind, you won’t be productive if you’re not in the right mindset. So, remember to give yourself that break and tackle the work the next day.”