MKUYUNI, MWANZA REGION, TANZANIA – A rural Tanzanian village is celebrating a major milestone today: being featured in its 500th medical school admission essay.
The village, with its picturesque tin-roofed hovels and lack of piped water, reflected on the good fortune which drew so many American applicants to its rough cinder-block clinic over the years.
“Well, we provide a lot of easy metaphors,” said the mayor, Mr. Issa Chikawe. “The American visitors—who for some reason always come dressed in full safari gear to apply bandages in our clinic—love to watch the women walk for hours fetching jerrycans of water, carrying them miles in the hot sun in order to cook and bathe. It’s easily analogized to their own arduous work as university students, turning down enticing beer pong invitations to study for the MCAT instead.”
“No, no!” interrupts the clinic director, Dr Samuel Ndahani. “I think it is because we offer such a personalized, tailored experience! For example, we are close to Lake Victoria. If the student is interested in infectious diseases—bam! Malaria and schistosomiasis! How exotic!”
“If, however, we sense that they want to write about the intersection of gender and health, well, we have a population of local prostitutes servicing truckers on the highway, barely making enough to buy maize for their children. Perfect for an essay discussing the lack of women’s voices in the upper echelons of scientific research, or the student’s felt oppression when she voices an interest in a historically male-dominated field like medicine!”
Local midwife Zainab Daftari pipes up with her perspective. “Sometimes I let visitors hold up a leg or fetch me towels during a birth. But if they seem particularly interested—especially if they’re going to write an essay about how much they want to be an obstetrician serving the underserved—I let them run the show. Breech twins? Shoulder dystocia? Obstructed labor in a 14-year-old nullipara? Well, these Americans have taken ‘Cellular Biology’ and ‘The Sociocultural Determinants of Health.’ Many have even earned As, or at least B+s. Of course they’re qualified to deliver babies. Babies from our village, that is.”
Primary school teacher Thomas Juma adds his thoughts. “If the applicant is male, I can helpfully provide several dozen school-aged boys with whom he can play soccer. He can note the lack of uniforms or carefully manicured field, yet the shining sportsmanship and happiness which transcend the children’s circumstances, making him carefully reflect on his own high school varsity experiences.”
“If the applicant is female, well, she can get her hair braided and take lots of pictures holding smiling toddlers.”
The mayor again speaks up. “But these things are true of so very many villages. Let us not forget how close we are to Mount Kilimanjaro—if ever an Alternative Spring Break provided an essay-worthy analogy, climbing Kili must be it!”
Clinic director Dr. Ndahani concludes, “But the most heartwarming thing is when we get a repeater; a med student whose ERAS application for residency needs a little buffing. It’s amazing to see how much they’ve learned in four short years. They sit with me in the clinic fiddling with their stethoscopes, asking for ‘repeat imaging’ and ‘radiation oncology consults.’ It makes us feel so proud.”