When all my friends were graduating university and acquiring their first jobs, I was still midway through medical school, struggling through books and clinical rotations. I would listen to their stories of office friends and “work families” in awe – and wonder, when will I have this?
Fast forward through completing medical school, giving my steps, applying for residency, interview season… All those years erased the aforementioned questions from my mind. I was so focused on exams and landing a residency position in a foreign country, that I completely forgot about my yearning to be a working woman. On Match Day, though, having a job became a reality. In just a few months, I would be working for the first time in my life, in a distant place, in a hospital where I knew no one and no one knew me. Suddenly, residency went from being my dream to my fear.
Guatemala is a very diverse country; it is considered pluricultural, multiethnic, and multilingual. I grew up in Guatemala City and was raised in a very culturally aware family (my mother is a social scientist and my father is a public health specialist). In medical school, I took medical anthropology and learned of the importance of understanding local culture (the social behavior and norms in human societies) when treating patients. I did not know some of the concepts I learned in class would be so important in my personal life and career ahead. I took this class before and while doing a three-month community medicine rotation in one of Guatemala’s municipalities, San Juan Sacatepéquez. In this community, that is a 45-minute drive away from Guatemala City, we cared predominantly for patients of Mayan descent. In class, we learned about the Kakchiquel ethnic group, their culture and plural health system. We explored topics related to cultural change, cultural relativism, ethnomedicine, culture shock and ethnocentrism.
By Ekaterine Piccola Training Program Liaison, Mount Sinai Health System
I first planted my tired feet on US soil in August, 2003. After 12 hours in the air, when I breathed in the humid and intriguingly unfamiliar air outside of Washington Dulles International Airport, I knew that I was in for an adventure of a lifetime. My country, Georgia, was far behind me.
I started out as a new J-1 exchange student at New York University (NYU) in September, 2003. I experienced a multitude of emotions – I simultaneously felt happy, privileged, overwhelmed, and anxious. I realized that I was on my own and for the first time, I had only myself to rely on. The first few weeks were a whirlwind as I was eagerly trying to find a place to live in New York City, navigate through the subway system (mainly figuring out the difference between uptown or downtown, and trying to hear announcements against the noise of a rapidly passing express train), register for all the correct classes for my graduate program, and comply with the J-1 visa requirements. Along the way, I made some new friends who are now friends for life. Also, the support I received from the international office was crucial to my survival and future success.
A beautiful Floridian morning is peeping through my window, when sunlight seems to be at her cheerful best, before it resigns to the daily routine. It makes a glittering appearance every day, warming up the beaches and boats, for the rain and the famous Orlando lightning would be due by noon. The shades of weather shall favor me today, as I reflect on a delightful journey, celebrating a lovely concoction of flavors.
It is interesting how we change shoe sizes. The leap into a second year resident’s shoes has been remarkable. As a PGY-2 in internal medicine at Florida hospital Orlando, I must admit that the second year of residency has been the best of both worlds so far. The worlds I refer to are two amazing phases of learning medicine. The first part is the relentless responsibility to learn at every step, and the second is sharing the knowledge and learning through supervision. It is challenging, yet very enjoyable, to extend my abilities and further the skills learned in the first year, to apply and practice medicine with a new sense of maturity. Expectations are higher, and it is the time for me to be prepared for added responsibility. It is time to make decisions for the team, be the second in command after the attending physician, and guide, supervise and organize with the interns.
Having completed a residency in otolaryngology in Quebec City, Canada, I was ready for my next journey. But where would I go? Knowing I earned a position as an associate professor in one of the top pediatric hospital in Canada, Ste-Justine in Montreal, I had to find the perfect fellowship to learn from the best and bring back this knowledge with me. Who knew this journey would lead me in Cincinnati, Ohio.
I had the honor to complete a 2-year fellowship in Pediatric Otolaryngology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical. This hospital is not only the 2nd highest ranked pediatric hospital in the United States, but is the worldwide leader in performing pediatric airway reconstructions, including procedures involving the area from the top of the voice box to the trachea.