A little less preachy and a little more practical

Our guest speaker at the 2013 ChanSea Hall Dinner was Kenrese Young, motivational speaker and health and lifestyle coach. She spent her allotted time preaching to our young, impressionable minds about the importance of dreaming big and not letting anyone tell you “You can’t”.

Her most shining example of reaching for the stars despite the odds was her personal story of quitting her comfy job at a communications company (after years of making money) to become a motivational speaker. She extolled the virtues of doing what you love.

All of which rubbed me the wrong way.

I think it’s wholly impractical to be telling a roomful of university students to switch majors just so they can do what they love. This economic climate and this job market are too unstable to be telling anyone to dream big and ignore reality. Because she never once mentioned any kind of practical advice about getting a job after university, even though more than 75% of our graduates will remain unemployed after they graduate with a “sensible” degree. Even medical interns – a post that used to be guaranteed once you left university – are having a hard time finding jobs.

Her speech was full of catchy phrases like “Dream big!”, “Don’t let anyone bring you down!” and “Work hard!” but I think in the midst of all the hype, she failed to bring across just how hard you have to work. And that sometimes hard work alone will still not cut it. There is luck and knowing the right people and getting the right opportunity – which, statistically speaking, everyone will not get.

She didn’t tell them that the world is unfair.

Telling lies to the young is wrong
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Her own story isn’t an ideal example either. We don’t all come from the same background or get the same chances. She had built herself a stable, practical career out of university degrees that she probably didn’t love studying for in the first place. But they made her financially secure enough to be able to quit her job and jump into a profession that is iffy at best. Could she have done that – would she have wanted to do that as a fledgling university graduate with loans to pay off and rent overdue? I doubt it.

She was a complete one-eighty from our guest speaker last year who had told us straight up about the raw deal we’d be facing as university graduates in a global society where graduates are a dime a dozen. He told us to be trailblazers, yes, but when he told us how hard blazing the trail would be he didn’t pull any punches. He didn’t sugar-coat our future because the future shouldn’t be sugar-coated, or viewed through rose-coloured lenses. Times is hard and they’re only getting harder. How many of our young people are unemployed? Across the world? How many businesses have failed in the last few years?

It is not from lack of passion that these pursuits have withered. What our young people lack is direction, not drive. We are so eager to make our mark on the world but no one’s there to help us navigate the treacherous waters. And today’s world is a much harsher one than the world of generations past. Prices are going up, including the price of mistakes, and we are struggling to find our feet in an ever-shifting economy, an ever-changing society. The kind of advice we need is not going to be found in fortune cookie fold-outs, can’t be given in clichés or anecdotes about one-in-a-million chances.

Be careful with whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.
Advice is like a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it, like fishing the past out of the garbage disposal and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

Mary Schmich/Baz Luhrmann

But it is too easy to talk about what we don’t need. We know the wrong way all too well. The hard part is figuring out what we do need, and which way is the right way, and we should be busy trying to work on that. So far all we’ve got is trial and error and we don’t know the answers to any of the questions.

If anyone does, please write.


As far as commencement speeches go The Sunscreen Song is still my favourite, but This is Water runs a pretty close second.

The price of physicians

My tuition for the upcoming school year (2013-2014) is $632,000 JMD (about $6,000 USD).

This is after an 80% government sponsorship.

Which makes the actual school fee closer to $3,000,000 ($30,000 USD).

Medical students have to find this money every year, and the price is hiked further and further away from our increasingly smaller wallets. And contrary to popular belief, medical school is not crammed with rich kids. Some people have parents who’ve invested blood, sweat and tears to make sure that their offspring can have his/her life’s dream. Some people have scholarships. Some people are paid for by their governments. And, yes, some people just happen to be rich kids whose parents can fork out $1.5M a year to keep their kid happy and occupied. But it still costs money.

Keep in mind that tuition doesn’t include living expenses, or textbooks. Medical textbooks run in the thousands of dollars. Very few texts cost less than $1,000 USD, and the expensive ones are the essential ones that’ll take you through your entire medical school career. Only, you have to buy two or three of them every year.

One sociological theory (I think it’s Functionalism, but don’t quote me on that) says that the worth of a profession (i.e. how much the professional should be paid) ought to be directly proportional to how much they invested in their education.

You spend all this money on your medical education, and graduate with living expenses to pay up and loans to pay off. You get a job – you’re almost guaranteed a job – that doesn’t pay you nearly enough to live half as lavishly as most of society thinks doctors do. Many interns live at home and fight for extra duty hours at the hospital so they can save enough money to be comfortable . . . eventually. If there is one habit you pick up in medical school, it is investment. You invest in studying to pass exams, in years of education to get a good job, in your career so your family can live comfortably. You get used to delayed happiness. But I digress.

The government of Jamaica is struggling to afford its doctors. It’s fighting to stem the brain drain that we’ve been hearing about since primary school, and which has never been more real since you’ve come face to face with the black hole of occupational opportunities. It’s fighting to keep producing doctors from willing students who just can’t afford university.

On the other hand, the University of the West Indies has made a business of creating doctors, opening their doors to everyone who can afford it. The new Medical Sciences building is the  carrot on a stick for international students, the ones with the money. Because it makes no economical sense for them to cater only to a government (Jamaica) with a running tab that they never pay (that 80% government sponsorship is really more like a giant IOU). You really can’t blame them; they’re just trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Meanwhile the public grabs at free health care with both hands while simultaneously berating the substandard service. They raise hell when doctors “sick out” in response to low pay and bad working conditions. They don’t understand that everything has a price.

But it does.

Everything has a price.


Been away for a while guys, my apologies. Having no internet will do that to you. I’m still not 100% back, but keep looking out for updates, ’cause there’s a lot of stuff I need to rant about.