Introducing The Layman’s Doctor

[00:00:00]       [music]

[00:00:12]       Hi, I’m Samantha. Welcome to The Layman’s Doctor Podcast where we’re Bringing Medicine Home. I thought it would be a nice time to really talk about why I’m called The Layman’s Doctor. This is something that people ask me all the time, so let’s just answer the question. 

 [00:00:26]       It all started when I was in primary school. I really wanted to be a psychiatrist, specifically one that did research, one that researched about sociopaths and psychopaths. Eventually, I kind of saw that all my friends were pretty messed up from their parents, myself included, and then I wanted to go into child psychiatry. So if you know the road to being a psychiatrist, you have to enter medical school and then go into psychiatry. So from that story, you should have figured out that I really wasn’t interested so much in being a general doctor or the medicine itself. This didn’t change. So I went to high school; I set myself up because I had a clear path to what I wanted to do. I also had some interests. So I liked languages. I studied Spanish. And I was really interested in advocacy, so I did a lot of advocacy along the way as well. 

 [00:01:15]       Now, for CSEC, I did the sciences. And then in CAPE, I did the sciences plus Spanish. That set me up to going to university. I was lucky enough to get a subsidy from the government, which meant I only paid 20% of the $3.2 million. So even though I had that subsidy, I was still paying 600-plus K per year, which is quite a lot. And it’s quite a lot for many people, but there’re many ways that you can kind of subsidize this. So even if you don’t get that 80% subsidy, if you’re freaking out and wondering, “But I’m not coming from CAPE. I don’t have those grades,” you can apply for other scholarships, and there is actually financing available from the faculty itself. I took the route of going from high school to university, but there’re persons who went to university and studied something else. I have a few friends that went to Sci Tech and then transferred over. And then there are persons who had first degrees. So there are so many different ways to actually get into medical school if you wanted to. 

 [00:02:16]       So I’m in medical school and, for me, it wasn’t a thing like if I didn’t get in, it would be the end of the world. I had my backup plans. I actually got accepted for psychology, which is something that I really liked, and my true second choice was actually studying languages and, potentially, international law. A lot of persons were kind of disappointed when I went into medicine. They always thought I would do some kind of international relations or something along the lines of human rights and study languages. But here I was in Medicine. 

 [00:02:46]       So entered Medicine and it was a culture shock for me. It was a huge, huge culture shock and now, now, after completing Medicine, I’m much more open about the challenges I faced, especially when it comes to my mental health during that time. My mental health during those five years were in shambles, and it wasn’t until recently where I became much more vocal about it because, the truth is, for a very long time, people were silent about talking about mental health and mental illnesses, and everybody just kind of thought if you had a mental health issue, yuh crazy. Or they only see it as being schizophrenic or those people walking on the road talking to themselves. And it really made us– it really made it hard to talk about mental health and be open about it. So because it was this huge culture shift, during my first year I ended up living at the university, and that was another thing. I had never lived on my own. I had to be doing everything on my own. I had to be cooking, washing my clothes, budgeting. My friends were gone as well, and not a lot of them entered medical school with me or even entered University of the West Indies, specifically, with me. A lot of them went to other countries. So it was a huge change. I had to be making new friends. I had to be living by myself. I had to be making sure that I take care of myself. And it wasn’t as though I didn’t know how to wash, cook and clean. I learnt those basic skills. But it was just so different. I wasn’t at home. My home is my comfort space and I had created my room in a way that it was now my safe place. 

 [00:04:26]       So I’m gone. Went in, met new people and definitely had my anxiety from high school just completely worsen in Medical School. So the first three years, first year to third year, were just– they were trash for me. I was barely making it, not necessarily academically, but as a person. I was getting my grades. I was doing fairly okay. But I just wasn’t an okay person. And by that time, I had completely lost my drive to do this. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I got experience in psychiatry and I realized that this was not what I wanted to do. It was not what I thought it was. Nothing about it was what I wanted and I kind of felt lost but I was already there; let me just finish. 

 [00:05:11]       Fast forward to fourth-year Community Health rotation. I remember just sitting in the class and we were sharing our experiences as students. So in first year– so after all these drastic changes from high school to university where I had ended up living on campus, after a couple of years during school – med school is five years – I had kind of lost my vision. I had been exposed to psychiatry and I realized that that was nothing that I wanted to do. Now, I ended up going into fourth year. In fourth year, we did this subject called Community Health, and that’s really where you learnt about the structure of the healthcare system. And this primarily focused on Primary Care. And that includes preventative medicine, community medicine where people go out into the community – that includes things like the dengue response, persons who kill the mosquitoes – and then all your health centers. So we were being– we had that course again. 

 [00:06:11]       I remember us sitting in class and because one whole semester of clinical medicine where we get to put on our white jackets and actually go into the hospital and actually get to see patients and get to talk to patients, we were all sitting down and sharing our experiences with that. I remember somebody shared this story. They were saying that they went to a clinic and the patient– they were taking the history and they asked the patient what illnesses they had and specifically if they had sugar, you know, diabetes. The patient said, yeah, they had it. So now, just to go back, it’s not to be assumed that everyone knows what diabetes is. Diabetes is a chronic illness. That means that once you have it, you kind of always have it, right? You can take your medications; you can eat in a certain way to help to control it. But this person obviously did not know that. They distinctly said they had diabetes, took their medication, and then they were okay. They had absolutely no follow up. Usually what happens if you’re a diabetic, you usually go to the clinic every three months, sometimes less if you’re newly diagnosed and really not being managed well, and sometimes more if you’re doing very well on your diet, your exercise and your medication, if you’re taking it. And I just remember the whole class laughing, laughing at the fact that this person thought that diabetes was like the common cold – you tek a few pills and yuh okay afterwards – or like a simple infection to the chest or of the urine. Yuh tek some pills, yuh tek yuh antibiotics and yuh good after that. And I sat there and I’m thinking to myself, “But this is not funny. It not funny. It really shows us that we’re not doing the best we can in order to empower our patients.” And I kept thinking about that story.

 [00:08:06]       I can remember the day so distinctly. I remember how I felt. I remember everything about the day and it just stayed with me for a very long time. During that time as well, I wasn’t doing things that I enjoyed. I really loved to write and I wasn’t writing as much as I used to. I wasn’t going out as much as I used to. A lot of things were just happening in my life and I felt really tired. I felt really worn out, and I just wasn’t feeling like myself. I remember sitting down and I couldn’t get it out of my head. It just kept replaying over and over, and that’s when I realized that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to talk about medicine in a way that is outside of the academic setting, in a way that patients are the ones who are the focus. I wanted to practice patient-centered medicine. And that went beyond just prescribing pills and prescribing regimes to actually helping people, on a large scale, understand what it is that they wanted, or rather, understand on a large scale, what it is that was happening to them. 

 [00:09:16]       I talk about it all the time; always ranting about the fact that we’re not learnt soft skills in school. We’re not taught, really, how to talk to patients except for one and two sessions and I wanted to bring back community medicine. I wanted to refocus on medicine in a way that patients don’t feel as though they’re a spectator in their own health. I wanted them to feel empowered, I wanted them to go out and seek knowledge. But also on the flip side of that, while I wanted to be patient-centered, I also wanted to bring to the attention of physicians that we have a role to play, that we ought to spend some time and educate, and that I always call physicians advocates for their patients. 

 [00:10:06]       That started it. For my birthday, I gave myself the blog. At this current moment, I’m on WordPress, but I do at least own the domain site, and I just decided to write about things that I would see all the time. And that’s really what has been happening up to now. So I used to– it was so much easier as a student because I had all this experience. I would go around to clinics and I would notice that persons were there from 5 o’clock in the morning to 3:00 PM, but they had no preparation whatsoever. But this is a clinic that they go to at least every two months. So I said, “You know what? Let me write an article about this. Let me tell people what to do in preparation for their clinic visits.” Because while we don’t– ideally, we don’t want these things to happen, I can’t ignore the realities of the situation. So I always wanted it to be very specific to the realities of our context and our situation. 

 [00:11:08]       So for a long time, that’s what happened. And then I realized that I had to put in place my advocacy. I really love advocacy. I have been very vocal, especially on sexual reproductive health rights. That’s something that I talk about a lot. And just living by example in saying that doctors are patient advocates. I thought that this was a great, great avenue for me to do that. But this also helped me personally in finding– not finding myself, but coming out of my rut. A lot of things happened during medical school: I lost one of my closest friends; my father was hospitalized; I got diagnosed officially with anxiety. And it was an overwhelming experience. And this was a nice way for me to put in writing how I felt and the things that I wanted to do. 

 [00:12:04]       It’s been over a year now and it has become something more than I ever thought it would have been. And I get asked all the time, “So why did you choose The Layman’s Doctor?”  And funnily enough, in that same Community Health course, one of my consultants told me it was a stupid name and, because it was in the early part of it, I just remember sitting there thinking, “Wow. That really, really, really hurts my feelings.” But I love the name. And you know the thing is, so many people have come to me like, “Sam, I know exactly what you’re saying when you say ‘The Layman’s Doctor’. It just tells me what kind of medicine you’re practicing and I get it. I love it. I love it.” And then this one person who I had looked up to at the time was just like, “It’s a dumb name.” And it hurt my feelings but I was strong. I was steadfast. I said, “Nah, I’m going to keep it. I think it really portrays what I want to do and what I want to be.” And the name really came to me on that same day from the story that I told you where that person didn’t know what medicine was– what diabetes really was, and that person was a layman and it was up to a doctor to really spend the time to speak to them and tell them, or explain to them, what their disease or diagnosis meant. And that’s how I became The Layman’s Doctor. 

 [00:13:28]       The future for The Layman’s Doctor for me, I don’t see myself not ever being The Layman’s Doctor. I’m really excited for what’s going to happen. I’m excited for what it can be. And it’s genuinely a part of me and it means so much to me. And I just love what it has become and I can’t wait to see it grow. And I have to just give a big thank you to everybody who sees me as The Layman’s Doctor and who participates in my content and who take up my content. And it’s just a wonderful experience. 

 [00:14:04]       Now, if you want to hear more of me, you can follow me on social media @thelaymansdr. This is for my Twitter and my Instagram. It’s spelt @thelaymansdr. Feel free to send me questions, stories, feedback to my email address And I look forward to talking to you again. Don’t forget to like, share, and of course, subscribe. [music]




  1. Well done!

    1. Thank you!

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