Dr Sihle Letren was thrown in the deep end of the pool when she graduated from medical school in 2020, and again on January 29 when she was crowned Trinidad and Tobago’s representative for the Top Model of the World competition, to be held in Cairo, Egypt on March 11.
Letren works at the St James medical complex in the covid19 unit, which she describes as “the heart of the battle.” She said compared to the Port of Spain General Hospital where she did her internship, it is harrowing.
“Working during the pandemic overall has been very difficult…Having to navigate situations where co-workers were getting sick and we had the same patient load with fewer staff members…Working in the covid unit, there was a lot more death to deal with and I don’t think anything prepares you for that,” Letren told WMN.
She said it was a struggle trying to stay positive and in a good mood, while at the same time keeping patients comfortable and trying to reassure relatives.
“This really challenged my ability to compartmentalise things. It wasn’t really something that I had done before because, for me, the ability to empathise makes you a better doctor. Normally, I try to remain very open to understanding patients experiences and what they are going through. But, in the covid unit, while I maintain my empathy because that’s who I am, I have to make sure I don’t dive in so deep that it affects me mentally.”
She said even before she had completed her degree, the pandemic had erected its share of hurdles in her path.
“When covid reached TT it was very chaotic because, at the time, I was trying to get back to Jamaica to sit my exams. With the border restrictions and the cancellation of flights, I had to learn to manage online school while preparing for exam. It was very different to in-person classes. Fortunately though, by the time covid had started affecting us, I had finished the practical and clinical aspects of my degree and was just studying for exams.”
The 27-year-old said although she was crowned winner of the local leg of the Top Model of the World competition, she has very little pageant experience. Most of it has been from the outside looking in. Her mother and one of her cousins models.
“This is my first international pageant. In 2015 I took part in Miss UWI, Mona, in Jamaica, where I went to medical school, and I was the first runner-up. That’s the extent of my involvement in pageantry.”
She said it was always a dream to take part in a pageant, and she decided it was time because of the age stipulations that go with pageantry.
“I told myself, ‘if you want to attack that dream you have to go now.’ I decided to jump in and give it my best. It was uncomfortable at first, but it worked out in the end. I won!”
The Diamond Vale resident told WMN she has mixed emotions about what comes next. Her tentative departure date for Egypt is February 26 and she is excited and happy because of the opportunities the title will afford her. But, she is also anxious because she will be representing TT on such a huge platform.
“The team (franchise holders Crowns and Sashes) are trying to get me fully prepared so hopefully I won’t be that anxious. I am very confident in the team that is behind me and I think they see a lot more in me than I see in myself. I have to trust what they see because I am very new to this. This is going to require a lot that I have never done before. But I am coachable and I listen. I know I have a lot of work to do, but everyone, including me, is willing to put in the work.”
Letren said she is really looking forward to the cultural exchange experience from meeting and interacting with all the other delegates, as well as being in Egypt.
“I love travelling, but I’ve only travelled to the US and within the Caribbean.”
She said although a “beauty with a purpose” project is not heavily weighted in this competition, she has been working on something that is very dear to her.
“My initiatives are geared toward linking my profession to contributing to the community. It’s along the lines of educating the population to the chronic illnesses that affect people in TT and the Caribbean, and informing people on how to better utilise all the healthcare facilities we have here in TT. Many people are unaware of them and how our health is affected.”
She said finding the right balance between work and preparing for the pageant was more a matter of time management than anything else.
She said she got a planner and sat down and wrote everything down. Fortunately, Crowns and Sashes knew and understood her responsibilities as a frontline worker, and was very accommodating.
“The activities were virtual and we had boot camp and training sessions online. Training sessions were online. All of the pre-requisite – talent videos and national costume videos – were all submitted online.”
Her talent was depicted in three art pieces she drew.
“I am also an artist, but it‘s more of a hobby. It’s natural talent. My family is extremely artistic.”
Her national costume, conceptualised by Thais Razark and designed by Atiba Borde, was based on the Pitch Lake and titled The Black Diamond.
After the competition in Egypt, whatever the outcome, Letren will remain the national title holder for a year. During her tenure she said she will use the platform to execute her projects.
“Locally, I want to do more health and awareness campaigns and outreach projects. I’d love to go back to my alma mata, St Joseph Convent, Port of Spain and any other school that will welcome me, to encourage young people to dream wider and do things they are passionate about. Not only to focus on academics and future, but to learn to balance that with other things.”
Eventually, she said, the plan is to branch off from being a general practitioner to specialise in either nephrology (the study of the kidneys) or urology.
“I’m still trying to decide.”
But until then, she will focus on the task at hand.
“The big dream is to take the title.”