Dare To Be 100: Lunch With Margaret

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Four years ago I was at the tether end of my endurance after 10 straight hours of interviewing prospective Stanford School of Medicine applicants. Our interview process is so designed as to make it as objective as possible and minimizing the subjective bias. The process involves presenting the applicant with a printed scenario describing a complex psychosocial problem with a medical context, and ambiguous by its nature, no correct answer. For example: a Jehovah's Witness patient with bleeding, or an ill immigrant who believes in voodoo's charms and refuses medical contact, or the patient with obvious abdominal pain who refuses examination. The candidate has these scenarios presented on the outside of the examination room and given five minutes to survey them, then invited into the examination room. After introductory pleasantries for 10 minutes the examiner, me, tests the candidate's grasp of the problem and tries to get a handle on the candidate's generic capabilities.

We receive 6000 applications per year, we interview 400, and admit 80, so the process is very stringent, and seemingly all candidates are smarter than the interviewers, and with compelling resumes.

Interviewing is really tiring, so it was at the conclusion of a long day of these sessions when Margaret came in as my last interview. Having spent six months in Nairobi in 1980 studying with Richard Leakey with an amateur anthropology background I had recognized the ring in Margaret's voice. I blurted out "You're from Nairobi." "Yes, I have just gotten off the plane from East Africa". I sat bold upright. Margaret is tiny, maybe 90 pounds, is black as coal, with piercing eyes, and a surreal regal presence. She possesses a dignity that would make Socrates proud. Somehow she, an orphan, had found her way from the back alleys of Nairobi to Palo Alto. I was overcome by her presence and the power of the encounter that I was witnessing. After our 15 minute interview I'm sure that I rated her with the highest number that I possibly could. Obviously other interviewers shared my enthusiasm because she was admitted as a freshman candidate to the medical school. I was thrilled.

We spent a fair amount of subsequent effort arranging scholarship money for her because despite all of the billions of dollars floating around the Stanford campus there is sparse support for foreigner scholarship money, buckets for locals.

In any case I had lunch with her yesterday. She is within several weeks of receiving her MD from Stanford. From here she is headed to Boston and the Harvard School of Public Health for a career in public health. With much deference she asked if I were willing to write her a recommendation to this next chapter in her gilded life. I seized upon this request with great enthusiasm.

So my luncheon with Margaret affirmed my optimism that the world is not so bad as it might otherwise appear. With people like her laboring up through the ranks, this globe is assured of being a more equitable homesite. We will be fortunate to have many more Margarets in our midst.