Serhat goes from Ghent University to Harvard: "I want to bring healthcare to people who are excluded from it"

Serhat Yldirim
28 June 2023 |

Serhat Yildirim (26) just completed his final exams in medicine after which he will start at the prestigious Harvard University. He was admitted for the two-year master's degree in Global Health Delivery. When we asked Serhat if he was willing to have a quick chat, the answer came very quickly: "I owe a lot to Ghent University, so I will gladly answer your questions".

"Harvard was never my end goal. The master program has only been on my radar for about eight months. I initially planned on starting at Ghent University with a specialization in psychiatry or as an emergency physician. But I want to get back to the essence of healthcare. For me, it's about the combination of medicine, research and policy. By treating these three components equally, you can avoid determining health policy from an ivory tower position. I also wanted to go abroad for a while. That's how I ended up at Harvard. The program is very practice-oriented, and everything we will learn is directly applicable. I especially hope to develop some practical skills."

We need to move away from approaching diversity as a project

“My story has found its way to the media in recent weeks. I got a lot of positive reactions but quite a lot of harsh, negative reactions as well. Fortunately, I’m now at a point where I don't really care what people say. I am here. I have a role and function. I feel good here. If other people have a problem with that, I feel sorry for them. Instead of talking about us-them all the time, let's move on to the us- story. From the positive reactions I received in recent weeks, I notice that young people and also my fellow students with a migration background are starting to internalize these ideas more and more. That encourages me to continue.

Ghent University is also really doing a lot in this respect. I do think we should move away from approaching diversity as a project. We have long since passed the discussion on the added value of diversity. Let's just see diversity as a fact and try to integrate it more into the programs. Through my position in the Flemish Association of Students (VVS), I am well aware that the real diversity challenge within higher education starts earlier. So I ended up on the Board of Governors of the GO! Scholengroep 24K because I could help bring change there. But it remains very difficult."

"My trajectory went the way it was supposed to"

“Medicine was not really a conscious choice. Some of my teachers in high school encouraged me to go in this direction. I would definitely make the choice again. Medicine, the profession and the training, is so broad. It touches on all branches and sides of society which I personally think is a huge added value. Everything starts with good health. Wanting to mean something substantial in other people's lives often starts with taking care of their health.

I did not find the search for my own path easy. In hindsight, I wouldn't change a thing either. My trajectory went the way it needed to go. I went out a lot, outside medicine, outside my studies and I benefited immensely from that.

During my studies, I did often ask myself the question "what am I doing here?". In my second bachelor, I had a very tough time. I was VVS president, which is a full-time job. I went to classes and I had a student job. I wanted to do everything right, but it was hard to keep up. That had an impact on my marks. However, high marks alone do not set you apart. Through my extracurricular activities, I was able to flourish, develop myself and learn skills that I did not learn in school. Those skills still benefit me today. And that is thanks to Ghent University. Today, I am grateful for the more difficult parts of my path. I know my limits perfectly. I know how far I can go and when to take a step back.

Everyone is looking for a place to belong, for a trajectory, and you don't always find it immediately. My message is: "That's okay". You'll see where you end up. This is not to say that you have to adopt a don't care attitude. But you don't necessarily have to plan things two years in advance. Try to save yourself the disappointment when something doesn't turn out as expected. In doing so, also put things in perspective. The world will not end. And just always try to give your best, not only within your training but also outside it."

"I hope to end up somewhere where I can add some meaning"

“I don't know where I will end up. I also want to surprise myself. I do feel that people want to make me into a role model. Which is something I don't want. I don't want to be given a role because then it is assumed that I am an exception. I'm not. But I do of course notice that other people are inspired and stimulated by my life story. If I can motivate others in this way, I take that role to heart.

I give the advice I give to other students to myself as well. Above all, I hope to end up somewhere where I can make a difference. My ultimate goal is to bring healthcare to people who are excluded from it. I hope one day to be able to say "I didn't change the world, but I was able to change the world for some people."

"Ghent University really has a warm community "

"My days as a student really flew by. I still remember the enrolment moment. My mother and me in the Ufo-building. I found that so terrifying. I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

Ghent University really has a warm community. I am proud to represent my university. We are a very pluralistic university where everyone feels welcome and there is a sense of community. And we can actually really propagate that a lot more. I'm going to remember the kindness and the openness. And the fact that we are always trying to do better."

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