Why enter a medical program out of the Caribbean? Is it for the endless opportunities it offers to achieve your dreams of a career in medicine? Is it because you may be an untraditional student that felt drawn to this calling later in life? Or are you looking for the best of both worlds, receiving a quality medical education on one of the serene islands in the Caribbean?
For Crystal Richardson, the Caribbean, particularly the island of Anguilla, has always held a special place in her heart. As a first-generation American born growing up in Brooklyn, NY, Crystal was no stranger to the island of Anguilla where her father was from. She completed her primary school in Anguilla before returning to New York to finish middle school and high school. Crystal graduated with a Bachelors of Science with honors in Sports Therapy from the University of Kent. When she had initially entered a career in medicine, she was obsessed with Orthopedic surgery. Ideally, Crystal wanted to have a quick route to the post-operative rehabilitation process.
While she always felt a bit guilty for not following in her father’s footsteps in becoming a lawyer, she wanted to create a path of her own. “I have always felt drawn to helping others, I also had a keen fascination with understanding the body and how it works,” said Crystal when asked why she wanted to enter into a career in medicine. “Growing up in Anguilla, I remember my parents always having to take my siblings and I to neighboring islands, or even all the way to New York for medical treatment, due to the lack of healthcare access in Anguilla. The hospital is a primary care hospital, anyone with life threatening injuries would have to be airlifted out in order to have adequate surgery done. This definitely augmented my curiosity even more, additionally I continually enjoyed all my science classes; history and other social sciences were not my calling.”
Crystal graduated from SJSM in 2021. For her, the choice to complete her medical degree at Saint James School of Medicine was a no brainer, as the island of Anguilla was like a second home for her. Although she was not a part of any of the various on-campus organizations, she felt a calling to join the Medical Providers Network that works in partnership with New York Lawyers for Public Interest. “My role as a medical student is to evaluate pages and pages of medical records to assist clients detained in ICE detention facilities,” said Crystal. “Especially now during the pandemic, as those with major medical comorbidities are at a high risk for Covid-19 transmission.” Alongside the Medical Providers Network, Crystal spent her time volunteering at Community Health, a nonprofit free clinic based out of Chicago, IL. Her role as a lab technician provided her with an amazing opportunity to obtain experience completing venipuncture, administering vaccines, EKGs etc.
As the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Crystal was in her last weeks of her Internal Medicine rotation at Weiss Memorial Hospital when the program was abruptly discontinued to combat the world’s healthcare crisis. However, the OMNI medical group allowed select students the opportunity to complete their rotation at Roseland Community Hospital instead of the online study alternative. Although she only had one week left of her 12-week rotation, Crystal made the choice to lend a hand the entire month of April, assisting with various tasks in the emergency department including triage, codes and Covid-19 testing.
She describes this experience as an unreal learning experience! “Working alongside the doctors and nurses in the Emergency Department (ER) at Roseland Community Hospital was an invaluable experience, as it was the first and only hospital at the time on the South side of Chicago to offer Covid-19 testing and resources. It was extremely busy daily, as it was the only testing site for miles,” she said. “At that time last April, the virus was new and not completely understood. It was surreal to see a patient relatively okay with a mild cough, to immediate desaturation and respiratory failure. Definitely an experience I will never forget throughout my medical career!”
She was fortunate enough, even with the current pandemic, to complete a variety of in-patient rotations for electives, she looks forward to applying to the Match next cycle here and in the United Kingdom (UK). “I am currently in the process of enhancing my resume with research publications, publishing both Surgical Techniques, Complications, and Long-Term Health Effects of Cardiac Implantable Electronic Devices and Racial and socioeconomic disparities in congenital heart surgery: A research article,” said Crystal. Her research article entitled Surgical Techniques, Complications, and Long-Term Health Effects of Cardiac Implantable Electronic Devices was awarded third place in AZIYO’s “Strategies to Promote Long-Term Cardiac Implant Site Health” publishing competition.
Crystal has decided to take this time prior to residency application to complete her Masters of Law (LLM) with a concentration in Medical Law and Ethics at The University of Law (UK). For students interested in a career in medicine, particularly at Saint James School of Medicine, Crystal’s advice is, “Don’t be afraid of uprooting your life to move to the Caribbean, you will learn so much along the way. SJSM has a great curriculum and requires the same vigorous dedication needed to attend an American medical school, with the exception at SJSM you have a tranquil, safe atmosphere for learning.”
ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Dr. Roland Zhang