My baby sister is currently going through the motions of choosing what to do after she finishes high school. She’s the third one in my family to have this privilege that my parents never had. Lucky for her, she also has two sisters who have been through the process to guide her along the way. With my third graduation looming ahead next week, I do what I do best when procrastinating – reflect. How did I end up where I am now? Would I have chosen something different if I had to go through this whole process again? More importantly, what do I want to achieve from here on in?
I knew I liked learning about health and I wanted do work with people. When the time came for me to choose my life post high school, I looked at massage therapy, naturopathy, homeopathy and stuff like that. I liked the notion of food healing people, which stems from having been brought up surrounded by Chinese medicine. Divine intervention stepped in before I sealed my fate. At the time, these courses were only offered at private institutes and we couldn’t possibly afford the fees.
My dad then steered me towards university. Even though it seemed like a scary thought. Only really smart people go to universities right? (little did I know…)
I ended up choosing and getting into a general health science course, cos it looked interesting and had nutrition and psychology subjects and I didn’t know what else to do.
At the start of my second year at university, I was diagnosed with diabetes.
Admittedly, nothing changed in terms of study for me. Life carried on as normal. Volunteering on diabetes camps was the epiphany that sealed my decision in wanting to work with people with diabetes. Since I was already in the nutrition field, the logical thing to do would be to complete my studies to become a dietitian.
At the end of my degree, I applied for postgraduate studies in dietetics. I knew I didn’t stand much of a chance as it is a competitive course and I didn’t really have the marks to cut it. So as a back up, I applied for an honours year. Again by stroke of coincidence/luck/divine intervention, the perfect project came up that looked at diabetes related foot ulcers in a clinical setting. It ticked all the boxes – diabetes was included and it was in a clinical environment, which I knew would better prepare me for the world of dietetics.
I loved this little taste of research so much that I considered doing a PhD straight after because I had a project in mind. My PhD project was formulated based on a crazy idea that I was bouncing around with my honours supervisor, which stemmed from my experiences as a young adult with type 2 diabetes. At the same time, I had to consider if I still wanted to be a dietitian. As a dietitian I could help people to a more immediate effect compared to research. But should I limit myself? So I took the advice from the kid in the taco ad.
Knowing how competitive scholarships were for a PhD, I put my application in together my application for that postgraduate in dietetics. True enough, I was offered a spot in dietetics but missed out on the scholarship. So I went with the flow of dietetics, but never gave up the idea of that PhD project. To me, it was more than just a PhD – it’s a project that would help others living with diabetes aka my baby.
Fast forward to mid 2014, where I have finally finished a grueling year and half of studies and placements to be an accredited practising dietitian and started my PhD. (Woohoo!)
But what’s next?
Remember why I wanted to be a dietitian? It’s still a work in progress but I’m starting my own private practice specialising in working with people with diabetes using telehealth to make that dream possible. (Follow @Health4Diabetes on twitter for updates)
Remember why I wanted to do my PhD? I’m working to develop and find out if an online educational tool for young adults with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes alike will help diabetes self-management together with social media.
Remember why I wanted to work in healthcare? Well, I believe I’m well on my way in achieving my goal of helping people with diabetes.
Would I have chosen something different if I had to go through this whole process again? Probably not. Some are skeptical at the reasoning behind my choices due to my age. But age doesn’t and shouldn’t define a person’s experience or worth. I am willing to admit that I don’t know everything, which is why I have some fantastic role models and mentors in place to help me out. My journey has been a very long-winded one but I have taken away invaluable experiences and lessons at each step of the way. So to my not so baby sister and other high school students deciding their fate: know that the river doesn’t run in a straight line. It is more than okay to change your mind about your career direction. Learn from every detour you take and always trust and believe in yourself.