Writing Competition 2022: Dr. Afrikanah, Blazing the Trail in Pharmaceutical Journalism

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I have learnt to be true to myself and what it is I want to do: storytelling. It keeps me up at night. It sets my soul on fire. It completes me, truly.

Photo by George Milton via Pexels

Written by Mercy Judy Wanjiru

Dear reader,

I have been in pharmacy school for four years now. Three of those, I never had the courage to admit what exactly in this field piqued my interest.

The pharmaceutical industry encompasses clinical practice, research, industry, and policy making among others. I am keen on none of these. However, these branches are conventional; traditional. It is expected that one will get into them. How then dare I admit my wish to venture into pharmaceutical journalism, an unknown path?

There, I said it.

I can imagine the shock plastered on your face as you read this, the pool of dismay I have pushed you into. Yet, dear reader, this is my wish. 

Like Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream. One of being the pioneer pharmaceutical journalist in Kenya and possibly Africa. To pave this way for future generations. Therefore, today I write a letter, to myself and to anyone else who dares to take on previously unexplored paths. This is my letter of courage.

Aristotle defines courage as the first human virtue as it makes all other virtues possible. I define it as being characteristic of one to complement their boldness. It took courage to admit that I want to be a pharmacist working in media, even just to myself. To be the storyteller. To admit that finally, yes, I am cut from a different cloth.

I tried running away from it at first, though. I got a part time job in a hospital. Nothing about passion, but you see, this is what is considered gold practice; serving humanity and saving lives.

That did not work for me. You might argue the failure is accredited to the juggle between the 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. classes, crazy exams, and lab work. I tell you, though, the classmates I tried this with still rushed to their shifts every evening after I quit. Good for them. I guess that was their path, not mine.

My father reminds me every chance he gets, that I am his daughter. That alone translates into a tough, relentless spirit. I did not quit trying to measure up to societal standards of practice. I tried the industrial path, volunteering my extra time which is as rare as hen’s teeth, into learning the industrial work. This flopped even worse than the clinical one. Too much Chemistry. This reminds me of the proverbial biblical story of Jonah ignoring his call and how catastrophic that turned out. After my industrial path stint failed, I stopped running from my heart's desire.

In William Shakespeare’s words, to thine own self be true. Be comfortable with yourself and make light of your own mistakes. That is courage. This past year, I have learnt to be true to myself and what it is I want to do: storytelling. It keeps me up at night. It sets my soul on fire. It completes me, truly. Avoiding this and forcing myself on other paths just because they already are in existence and are therefore safer would be unjust to the world, but mostly to myself. Hence, I embraced the fact that my path is new, untraditional, risky; but my path nevertheless.

Yet, knowing is not enough. We must do, which in itself requires courage. I knew that if I were to make this absurd, unheard of and mystical dream come true, I needed to work on it as early as I could. Therefore, on May 11th 2022, I started Dr. Afrikanah, a podcast on health and wellness.  I merged the two paths dear to me: health and media. This I did to provide a platform where the medical and pharmaceutical story can be told by a professional. Through it, I serve humanity.

My vision is a long-term creation of awareness on matters health. I believe people should primarily be responsible for their health as opposed to giving that mandate to the professionals. For this to happen, society needs to know how to take care of themselves. Dr. Afrikanah teaches preventative medicine in curative medicine’s stead. In addition, it provides a safe space to deal with ‘taboo’ health issues. To give a for-instance, I did an episode on the role of men in menstruation.

The impact so far has shown me exactly why getting on this journey was necessary. Society craves for health information, more so if it is being dished out by a professional. Did you know that while on some contraceptives, a lady cannot take antibiotics? How then do you go about such a case if she falls sick and needs the said antibiotics? I bet you’d want to know.

Such is what I hope to shine light on through this venture. Were it not for courage, would I have been able to teach, empower, and impact society in this sense? I don’t think so.

Now I know of my obligation to my community. More importantly, I know that I need courage to execute it consistently. It is through courage that I will serve in this way.

Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage teaches on courage inspiring a shared vision. You must see a goal clearly and describe it to others. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his I have a dream speech describing his vision so vividly that those who heard it had no choice but to pursue it.

It is my prayer, dear reader, that I have shared my dream so vividly that your initial wonder has turned into an understanding of what I am now doing. Be courageous enough to believe in Dr. Afrikanah and other paths which may seem untraditional to society.

This has been my letter of courage, to myself and to you. I hope you get the courage to turn water into wine.

Yours in courage,

Dr. Afrikanah. 

Mercy Judy Wanjiru is a 21-year-old vibrant lady. She is a lover of literature with a keen interest in storytelling. Currently, she is in her fourth year of Pharmacy at Kenyatta University. She hosts a podcast on Health and Wellness called Dr. Afrikanah, through which she teaches her community on better living.