Starting with yourself -Talk Salmaan Sana C4C-congres

21 januari 2013

When I was 11 years I took part in a talent show and from all the songs that we used to sing during music class, there was something that seemed to touch me about “Heal the World”. Next to being a huge Michael jackson Fan (who wasn’t?). What I loved about the song, in my 11 year old state, is how it talked about what we can do make this world a better place. Most of Michael Jacksons’s songs were about love and making a better world.

Song: “Heal the World”: There’s a place in your heart and I know that it is love and this place will shine brighter then tomorrow. And if you, really try, you’ll see there is no need to cry, in this place, you’ll find there’s no hurt or sorrow. There are ways to get there, if you care enough for the living, make a little space, make a better place.

I thought about this just a few weeks ago again and remembered how embarrassing it also was, and it just seemed somehow fitting to start with a song that I once upon time, in my naive and idealistic state sung and to what extent it resonates till today.

Connect with Healthcare

There are multiple moments that I was in contact with Healthcare. As a child with many different conditions I was going in and out of hospitals very often and I was often in contact with doctors, some good, some less. One of the defining moments was when one of my family members was diagnosed with a chronic illness. It happened one day when I had to go to the Doctor for a flu and was going to get myself checked up, my family member came with me and after saying that he couldn’t see that well from his right eye, the doctor immediately saw the alarm signals and sent him off to a neurologist, made an MRI and before he knew it, was diagnosed with MS.

There are many other moments but it was here when I saw what was possible, what healthcare meant to my family and most of all what it meant to me.

Medicine trajectory

So since singing wasn’t really working for me, i decided to study medicine. I can’t really tell you exactly why I studied medicine, it was a mixture of things. I know it seemed to be best fit what I had in mind at that moment. I also that I had always been fascinated by the miracle of life, the mechanisms of the body and the manner in which our mind and body is connected.

Early into my studies I realised that studying was not enough. I wanted to do more then just study, so I got active. I started teaching at my faculty, either case studies, anatomy, interns on how to draw blood and put in IV’s, First aid classes. And I also got myself busy in the student council, fighting for student rights, improving medical education. Another association that represented medical students internationally got my attention and the projects they were doing looked so cool… so I dived into that and wow, that changed my life. Here are medical students with the dream to improve public and global health by means of working together, sharing best practices and creating awesome projects together. I then started to give training and workshops on topics to do with Leadership, Presentation skills, Strategic Planning and Project management. Later on I started focusing on the training of new trainers, on coaching and the creation of events that would break barriers between all different kind of students and get them to gather to learn and share from each other.

There was a pattern I was seeing here, the topics that I was getting myself involved in, and even the training, workshops, coaching, consulting that I was doing were all topics that I personally wanted to learn and that I wanted to know more about. They say “we teach that which we wish to learn the most” and this couldn’t be more applicable for me.

I started to get the question “Do you still want to become a Doctor?”. In my automatism, I would say “of course I do”, these things that I’m doing are just things on the side. The years went bye, my friends continued, my “Activities” turned into a company, a foundation, a schedule that was more hectic then ever and my studies lagging behind. My friends from University continued and I felt a little stuck, in different worlds.

Do you still want to become a Doctor?

No, I don’t just want to become a doctor, I want to become an

– Advocate

– Educator

– Trainer

– Coach

– Activist

– Entrepreneur

– Scientist

– Creator

– Artist

Well actually, yes! I want to become a doctor and be all of those things. Because that is what a doctor is to me. A doctor is a combination of these things!

So what went wrong? And why?

Why was I so caught up in those activities and not continuing with my studies? I was focusing on things that on a short term would show me success. There was the dynamics, the Rush, the traveling (i got to travel a ridiculous amount), the things I was learning I always wanted to know, the excitement. I became really good in delaying with other people. And the funny thing was, I had disregarded the most important thing of all, myself. I realised that I had built up a fear for being myself. I was afraid of continuing my studies, i was starting to get afraid that I couldn’t do it, that I would fail, that I would fail the expectations that others had of me. I realised how i was having an even harder time being myself. I was ashamed of how I really felt and that my studies dragging on came with an incredible amour of shame and fear that I was failing all those around me.

Ironically, this is when the person who wishes to be caregiver was afraid to ask for help. Asking for help was the first step I took that had brought me on this incredible journey on why I am actually doing all this. For so long I had been running on a driven automatic motor. It doesn’t mean that what I was doing didn’t bring me an incredible amount of experience, friends, knowledge and even the skills that i have learned. It did mean that the real me regressed even further.

I had almost lost one of the most precious things in the world to me. And that was my passion and drive to study medicine.

Others and the system

I started to wonder does this only happen to me? Am I the only one that goes through this? And apparently 20% of the interns are either disillusioned or depressed. A 40% are chronically fatigued. 10% of the residents quite their education after their first year due to the same reasons. And this costs a hospital €500,000 per year. This is not only an issue concerning people and losing man power, but its financial too.

Why is this? Why are so many people losing their motivation to work in healthcare. Why is our healthcare system becoming one that is more bureaucratic, the time pressure and the work load.

A friend of mine, who is studying medicine, only of late told me the reason she started studying medicine was due to someone in her family having a psychiatric illness and due to the stigmatisation of such illnesses and what this would do for her family and for her.

Even in my own family, we are afraid to share that someone is will, suffering from a chronic illness due to the negative image that it might create.

Creating the environment

Can we not create an environment build on trust, understanding, where we are allowed to make mistakes and talk about. Where we can work together. We don’t have to pretend. WE can be our REAL selves. And where we can ask for help when we need it?

Actually let me ask you 2 questions.

Firstly why?

Why are you here? Why is this important to you? Why do you wish to improve healthcare? Why do you do what you do?

And secondly How?

How do you hold on to that, how do you make sure that day after day, week after week, month after month you keep that initial passion you have for what your doing, despite set backs, or the system that stops you?

Please think about those questions for 20 seconds: Why do you do what you do? And how do you hold on?


To create the environment that I was talking about, there is one most fundamental value needed, and that is Compassion. Compassion has the ability to restore the balance between humanity and efficiency.

Now i’m not going to define Compassion for you, i’ve tried, trust me, but this is something you need to define for yourself and what it means to you. What I do believe is that it brings us back to the golden rule, to treat others as they wish to treated themselves. What this means to the way we treat patients, the way we treat colleagues and most importantly how you treat yourself.

Let me put it this way, which environment would you like to be taken care of in the future?

Creating the change

How are we to overcome the challenges that are to face in the future in terms of time restraints, money, the increase in patients, and so much more…

Looking back at my own personal journey, and after all that I have been able to see, I know there is still so much I need to learn about myself and i’ve got quite a long way to go.

I believe however, that the biggest change that will happen in healthcare EVER, is by starting with yourself. 



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