The halls of Western Atlantic University School of Medicine (WAUSM) are much busier as the population has grown from 15 at the school’s opening in January 2022 to 114 students ranging in age from 21 to 68.
Professor and Campus Dean Dr. Lauren Welke said only a few are local students.
“Most of our students are from the United States,” Welke said. “We have a handful of Canadians, and we have nine Bahamian students enrolled.”
William Ammons, 30, from Texas, is studying to be a cardiologist, a career choice inspired by his family’s experiences with the healthcare system in Austin.
“I didn’t know this until my freshman year in college, but a lot of people in my family were afraid to go to the hospital because of the way they were treated,” Ammons said.
“Whenever they would see physicians that were people that didn’t look like them, they never felt seen or heard. I just want to become someone that other people of color can see and feel heard by.”
Since his enrollment in August 2022, he’s been living on Grand Bahama on his own.
Ammons described his first days on the island as nerve-racking, but he quickly became accustomed to the convenience and scenery.
He noted that having various stores and other amenities within biking distance is a major advantage while visiting the nearby beaches and biking during the quiet nights have become two of his favorite ways to decompress.
“The simplicity of living without the stress of rushing from point A to point B has been a nice change of pace from what I’m accustomed to,” Ammons said.
“It has exposed me to things that I didn’t even know I needed, like getting to enjoy the night sky without city lights obscuring the stars and learning to trust in my classmates and campus faculty to lend a helping hand when times get rough.”
He added that he’s grown to love the colorful nature of Bahamian culture.
“I was here for the winter break and I got to experience Junkanoo,” Ammons said. “So, that was one of my favorite experiences. I’m just learning how people celebrated their freedom from slavery.”
As a WAUSM student, his day can be quite busy as he bikes to the university for his four-hour lectures starting at 8 a.m.
Ammons said during this semester, the classes are split into three units – the cardiovascular, respiratory, and renal systems – with each explained in great depth.
“Our whole purpose is to learn the physiology, so that we can understand the functions of each system or organ, so we know how to detect an issue, so that we can create a specialized treatment plan for each of our patients,” he explained.
Ammons added that patient care is also covered during the lectures.
In the university’s clinical building, the students are able to test their ability to diagnose ailments while developing their bedside manners by working with paid actors who simulate symptoms of various illnesses.
Students can also get hands-on experience with medical issues and emergencies through computer-generated simulations and using a mannequin.
Though the young student admitted to being homesick, he said he’s found comfort in cultural similarities and the warmth of the Grand Bahamian community.
As a devoted Baptist, Ammons explained that the shared importance of religion in The Bahamas has kept him grounded while the growing food truck culture and street food in Freeport remind him of his favorite spots in Austin.
But he said, the best part of his time on the island has been the hospitality shown by Grand Bahamians.
“I’ve been offered rides by strangers that have seen me walking on the side of the road,” Ammons said.
“I’ve been offered advice on where to go if I’m looking to get the most out of my dollar when it comes to groceries. It’s been a welcoming place, unlike the city where everyone can get caught up in themselves at times.”