“My parents are so proud!” Tishelle Daniel says with a big smile, sitting across from me at a table at Chesterfields during our interview. She laughs and adds: “I think they are even happier than I am.”

Tishelle’s parents have every reason to be proud as their daughter, who graduated a few weeks ago, is now officially a doctor of medicine. The young physician, however, has barely taken the time to relish in her great accomplishment, and instead is planning her next step. She hopes to specialize in ophthalmology, the branch of medicine that deals with the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the eyeball and orbit. It is a goal she is likely to accomplish with flying colours due to her unfaltering determination.

Did you always want to become a doctor? I was very young when I first ‘decided’ to become a doctor. Of course, at the time these decisions were based on a very simple thought-process. I have asthma and when I was about seven, was hospitalized twice. Dr. Offringa, my paediatrician, made me feel better and I decided: “I want to make kids feel better too.” Although it started as a kid’s dream, I guess that dream didn’t fade as I got older. The only time I doubted myself for a brief second was during my last year in high school.

Why did you doubt yourself at the time? I have always excelled academically, but that wasn’t because it was easy. I have always needed to study a lot to keep my grades up, especially in high school. I knew that studying medicine would be even harder, and I wondered if I could handle it.

How did you overcome that moment? I am a very determined person. I guess some would say that I am hard on myself, but I don’t like the negative tone of that expression. Although I was uncertain if I could handle the workload of studying medicine, the prospect of giving up without trying was worse. So far, that mind-set has paid off quite well!

Was medical school as difficult as you expected? It was even rougher! The transition from high school to academic education was a challenge. The way I studied had to undergo a complete change. Added to that, I had to learn how to live on my own, improve my Dutch, and figure out how to navigate a new environment. I had terrible homesickness. I think in the last year I have adapted, but honestly, I still look forward to the day I can move back to Sint Maarten.

Why don’t you move back now that you have your degree? It is very tempting, but I want to specialize first and gain more knowledge before heading back home. At the moment there is no ophthalmologist on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. If I am fortunate enough to be able to fill that position, I want to be sure that I can give the best care I can. That is why I will make sure to absorb as much information as I can while I have the opportunity in the Netherlands. On another note, I hope Sint Maarten improves on targeting students like myself, who want to move back to the island after their studies abroad. I know a lot of students who would love to go back home, but due to lack of support, lack of opportunities and high cost of living are finding it hard to make that step.

Why are you focusing on ophthalmology? I actually always saw myself working in gynaecology; supporting women and being part of the birthing process seemed like a wonderful experience to me. I did my elective gynaecology internship at Sint Maarten Medical Center last year, under the supervision of Dr. Courtar. I liked the work, and have a lot of respect for the dedicated people that work in that department, but I did not enjoy being on call 24/7. Right after, I did my ophthalmology rotations. Ophthalmology is very structured and the related surgery has to be done meticulously, with millimetre precision. I loved it!

What do you like the most about being a doctor? Ha-ha, I am looking forward to actually getting paid now that I have my degree! But that aside, that dream of helping others is of course still very much alive. It is scary sometimes to think I will have the responsibility of taking care of my patients, and this can affect their lives in a big way. But this realization also makes me want to be a great doctor so that I can be confident in my decisions. It is always a welcome reward when patients show their gratitude. They often comment on calm and patient nature, which puts them at ease.

When you are not at the hospital or school, what do you enjoy? Fitness is important to me. I go to the gym regularly, do at-home cardio workouts or enjoy participating in sporting events. I actually took part in an obstacle run just last month. As a good doctor, I think one should practice the healthy lifestyle that we preach. During my down time, I am addicted to Netflix. People assume that I watch Grey’s Anatomy or House. No! I love my work, but with the little free time I have, I enjoy thinking about something else. Detective and fantasy series are my thing; such as Law & Order, The Blacklist or Game of Thrones.

Do you have advice for others who are pushing to reach their goals? You don’t have to be the smartest or most talented to succeed; you just have to be willing to work the hardest!

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