Today’s Real Life Glam features Dr. Myrvine Bernadotte, an emergency physician and a founder of Inspire Haiti. Inspire Haiti was founded by eight individuals exclusively for the charitable, medical and educational purposes of providing relief to the poor. Inspire Haiti’s objective is to improve the living conditions for the majority of Haitians: one person at a time, one community at a time. They aim to do this by building a comprehensive community-based organization focused on empowering the people of Haiti through quality health care, nutrition, education and social reform.
Read more about this amazing woman and her inspirational life below:
GLB: Tell us a little bit about yourself and Inspire Haiti.
MB: I was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Haitian immigrant parents. I have one older sister who was also born in Haiti. Like many, my parents came to the US for a chance at a better life for themselves and a brighter future for me and my sister. My father initially came to the US first, leaving my mother and sister behind. As a child, my father was extremely self motivated and diligent. His mother died while he was a young boy, yet with little guidance or direction, he managed to battle poverty and the streets of Arcahaie to earn his medical degree in Port-au-Prince. Upon arrival to the US, he worked various odd and end jobs, while learning English and studying to pass the US medical board exams. My mother later arrived to America with a high school education and worked various factory jobs and as a hotel maid before earning her degree as a Registered Nurse.
While I was an infant, my family moved from Boston, MA to Brooklyn, NY where we spent 9 years. In Brooklyn, we lived in an apartment complex occupied solely by aunts, uncles and cousins. Family was the center of our lives and still is. As a result of our close knit family model, the Haitian culture and customs were part of my every day life. I have always strongly identified with my Haitian roots, even when it wasn’t always popular to do so in Brooklyn in the 1980’s.
From Brooklyn, my parents earned a piece of the American dream and moved us to Long Island, where we would live in a corner house with a white picket fence and two dogs. I completed elementary and high school on Long Island. I later attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for college and Michigan State University for medical school.
Inspire Haiti was formed in late 2009, just prior to the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010. Inspire Haiti was founded by eight individuals who met after endeavoring on an unrelated mission to Haiti in May of 2009. As a group, we were startled to find that there were several areas of need that remained collaboratively unmet by any organization. During the next several months, we engaged in continued dialogue about the patients we’d seen and treated in Haiti, in particular, a five-month old baby girl born with congenital syphilis. She initially presented with two broken arms and several other signs of abuse and neglect inflicted by her abusive mother. We repeatedly discussed the solutions that could prevent the insensible acts imposed on this child. From those repeated discussions, the extensive background experience of all individuals involved and our love for a country in utter despair, Inspire Haiti was formed.
Our objective is to improve the living conditions for the majority of Haitians: one person at a time, one community at a time.
GLB: In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned your nontraditional path to medicine. How did you remain positive and confident in yourself? What advice can you give to aspirant physicians regarding the MCAT, studying for classes, and every other thing pre- med students are expected to excel in?
MB: My path to medicine was not traditional. However, looking back, I am so happy it wasn’t. For various reasons, I did not perform at the level required to gain entry into medical school while in college. I subsequently enrolled in more science classes at a local college to boost my GPA. I obtained my EMT license and volunteered with my local fire department. I also worked for a research company doing clinical trials. From there, I was accepted into a post-baccalaureate program at Michigan State University and entered medical school.
It was challenging to stay positive during the 3 years it took me to realize my dream. At times, it seemed unobtainable. However, I had an outstanding support system. My family taught me that a career doesn’t define me nor should it disrupt the essence of who I am. On the contrary, I was to make an impact on my career because of who I already am. My father continued to encourage me by telling me that everything worth having in life doesn’t come easy and I shouldn’t give up (“piti, piti…”). My faith in God was also a pillar for me. I believe that our relationship with God grows and strengthens in the difficult times. This is when we can clearly see the marvels of God.
To anyone in a similar situation as I was, I would say to reevaluate and be certain that the practice of medicine is really what is desired. More and more, I find premedical students do not have a firm understanding of our current healthcare system and what it means to practice medicine. There are a lot of ways to help people without being a physician. It therefore doesn’t make sense to spend 8 years of school and several years thereafter in training and not understand what is at the end of it all.
If the choice remains to pursue a career as a physician, I would say not to give up. Throughout medical school and training, one has to do a lot of things that aren’t enjoyable or desirable. However, it is important to stay focused and driven.
GLB: You’ve accomplished so much in your life. What are you most proud of?
MB: For as long as I can remember, I have always been a goal-oriented person. I contribute this to my upbringing. My parents instilled in my sister and I that education was the way to be successful. Consequently, once I finished high school, college was the only alternative and a graduate program was to follow. I am proud to have finished my medical education and have the opportunity to practice. I am also proud of Inspire Haiti and the work we’ve been able to do. However, more than anything else, I am proud of the relationships I have been able to build and maintain. My family and friends are anchors for me. Everything that I’ve accomplished to date, and everything I continue to do, is a reflection of the love and support I receive from them.
GLB: We are all too aware of the issues facing our Haiti but we often overlook its great treasures. What are some of your favorite things about Haiti? What makes the country beautiful?
MB: There are several things I love about Haiti and the Haitian culture. What often strikes me the most is the resiliency of its people. They face every challenging day with such tenacity that it is inspiring.
I don’t think one can go to Haiti and not fall in love with the cuisine. I may be biased but I do believe we have one of the best cuisines in the world. A perfect day in Haiti involves going to the beach in Aquin or Port Salut for swimming and grilling conch or lobster with fried plantains and “pikliz.” I live for this when in Haiti.
My favorite place in Haiti is Abaka Bay Resort on Ile A Vache. This is a wonderful paradise away from the bustle and hustle on the mainland. My husband and I love it so much we were married at this resort. We were so delighted to share this side of Haiti with our guests.
GLB: How can people volunteer with Inspire Haiti? What more can young Haitian-Americans do to help and truly make a difference?
MB: Young Americans who want to get involved can learn more about Haiti’s history and current events. This will help educate others about our island and obstacles it faces. Also, ironically enough, the older generations will often try to deter anyone from visiting and helping Haiti for fear of danger. This further perpetuates the perception that tourists will be harmed or killed if they visit Haiti. Haiti does have several obstacles that preclude it from being a prime tourist destination but there is tremendous beauty and culture there. I believe and hope that if we all lend a hand, we can break down and start to repair those obstacles.
There is so much opportunity in Haiti to get involved. There are so many organizations working to make a difference in Haiti. Anyone interested in volunteering with Inspire Haiti can visit our website at www.inspirehaiti.com. They can fill out our volunteer form or send me an email. We will keep all interested parties abreast on all events and upcoming missions.
GLB: What is one tip that you would give anyone to live a marvelous life?
MB: In my opinion, to live a marvelous life is more of an odyssey than a destination. I am constantly in a continuous process of trying to figure out what a marvelous life and how I will get there. However, so far I am sure of three things: continue to honor God’s presence, treasure family and friends and stay open. The rest will happen.