“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I see their eyes light up as they smile, and get prepared to answer this very important question. For some of them, it is the only smile I have seen during the entire visit. And for me that makes the entire visit worth it.
I move my eyes away from the computer and solely focus on their face as I hear them talk. “I want to be a lawyer,” “a navy officer,” “a professional chef,” “a basketball player, “an artist,” “a NICU nurse,” “a pediatric surgeon.”
My next question usually is “Do you know anyone in your family who has done it before?” They pause for a second and mostly answer “No.” “How did you make up your mind to do this then?” I hear many passionate answers:
“I have always had a passion to help people.”
“I love kids and the joy they bring.”
“I think I argue well with people and make up strong cases.”
“I enjoy the discipline.”
They almost make me believe that they have more wisdom than the age displayed on their charts.
These words mentioned above are being exchanged in an adolescent clinic in North Philadelphia. For most of us, we have in our head images on TV, highlighting the violence and shooting when we think of North Philadelphia and teens. Most providers as well, maybe commonly thinking about sex, violence, and depression when they are preparing to counsel teens in their office for a visit.
It holds true that many teens that we see in our clinic are struggling with significant social turmoil. Many have been affected or been involved in a shooting. A significant number have seen a family member deal with addiction. The housing situation is unstable for a few, and many live in foster homes. It is not uncommon as well to see many teens riding through an unwanted pregnancy. Many come from dysfunctional families and a considerable number screen positive for depression.
There is no denying, these teens come with a lot of baggage. But amidst all the noise in their life, most of them have a dream. Something they want to do with there life. And like many teens all over the world, they haven’t figured out yet how to do it. They often come to us, after having made a risky decision. Many times, despite the wisdom and power of their dreams, their scientifically proven immature brain takes over, and they land themselves into trouble. For many, resources are limited, and the achievability of their dreams seems remote.
It is evident that many are searching consciously or unconsciously for a role model, to climb the ladder of their dreams. Some find that in a family member, and some don’t. As their doctor, our miniscule effort during every visit could be to block five to ten minutes of the visit and talk about there strengths and capabilities. To consciously try to make them forget about the baggage they have brought on their shoulders today and focus on the possibility of a better future. I have been surprised by the amazing untapped potential that lies in these young souls. Their stories of courage and adversity have blown my mind.
As physicians, although our priority should be the physical health of these youth, teens in inner-city populations are looking for much more when they walk into the office. And we owe it to them, to empower them to achieve what they are capable of. To change the future of the next generation. We may think they are not listening, but they are. We may not realize this many time, but we may be the role model that they are looking for.
Saba Fatima is a pediatric resident.
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