Yes, I'm Really a Doctor: My Motivation to Attend PAINWeek 2022
PAINWeek 2022 Scholarship Winning Essay
“Are you really a doctor?” my patient inquired.
“Definitely. I’m your pain specialist today, as I introduced myself earlier.”
The patient smiled and continued, “Sorry, I didn’t want to doubt you or anything, but it’s a surprise. I never see people like you as doctors, and as specialists, and it’s great to see. Young Black men aren’t always in such a field.”
I thanked him and moved on, informing him that I simply hope to be a good physician who can relieve his pain. The encounter was unique for him, but a common occurrence for me. As a younger Black man, I’ve had many patients express genuine surprise, gratitude, and even a form of relief when they witness me as a practicing pain physician. Even Black patients seeing other physicians at my clinic have expressed that it is comforting to see that I am working there, because healthcare so often feels like a place where their kind has minimal involvement, agency, and shared trust. In turn, I feel a particular weight to be even more of an excellent and knowledgeable practitioner than I already would as a physician.
This is why I am applying for the PAINWeek 2022 scholarship. I practice in an urban setting in the greater Toronto area, with a diverse patient population of adults from 18 upwards. I am one of the MDs working in a multidisciplinary community pain management clinic that has physicians, nurses, and chiropractors.
Attending PAINWeek would strengthen my pain management skills in the obvious ways of material learned in sessions, but also in more subtle ways. Being Canadian, our pain education is slightly different in myriad ways—topics of focus, diagnostic modalities, payment structures, and the patient populations that are centered on. Attending a conference in another country would allow me to bring different perspectives back to my group and expand our body of knowledge. This would ensure that the gains I yield from the conference extend beyond myself into advancing our entire practice group.
Furthermore, the larger Black population in America has shown me that there are more Black practitioners as well as discussions around management of diverse patient populations that would be valuable for me from a networking standpoint. Topics such as sickle cell anemia or racial differences in disease presentation and medication response are addressed more often by conferences in America, and my patients of color would benefit from this understanding.
Unfortunately, the occurrences of patients who are pleased by having a Black physician also has a converse equivalent: patients who do not trust me due to my race. Several patients have told me directly, or told my receptionists, that they do not want a Black physician. I will never know how many hold the same feeling but don’t tell me, and the number does not matter. Proving these people wrong is exhibited simply by maximizing my knowledge and practicing in a professional manner. Thus, I am further motivated to attend a conference as widespread and thorough as PAINWeek to broaden my education and abilities.
Finances are one barrier to my pain management education. I am relatively new in practice, having finished my training in 2017. Therefore, I am still paying for my education, without any significant family backing to bolster me. This makes attending conferences more difficult, both because of the financial cost and the opportunity cost of days not worked while attending a conference. The lack of a conference such as PAINWeek in Canada is another barrier, and travel to America, where most pain conferences are, is additionally expensive for Canadians. Receiving a scholarship would mitigate some of this burden.
My goals are to increase the academic medicine in which I participate by taking more students and residents as learners and eventually opening a clinic of my own that is even more multidisciplinary than the one in which I work. The benefits of psychotherapy, physiotherapy, and nurse practitioner/physician assistant involvement is evident, and these do not exist at my current clinic. Attending the conference would provide me with even further confidence to be a teacher and open a practice.
Regardless of scholarship selection, I hope to be able to attend PAINWeek, as I know the title of MD is not just earned once, but by continuous learning, and I appreciate your review of my application.
Samuel Wasswa-Kintu, MD