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A Home Away from Home: A Saudi Arabian Alumni Story

By Dr. Mazin Alhamdani

My Name is Mazin Alhamdani. I am a native of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Ever since I was in medical school, I dreamt about pursuing post graduate medical training in the United States. I wanted this not only for the outstanding medical training, but also for the integrated training structure, and emphasis on ethics and professionalism. I studied for my USMLE exams while working as a resident in Saudi Arabia. I obtained good scores and began applying to residency programs. I was lucky enough to be accepted at a pediatric residency program in New York City, the “Big Apple.”

My co-residents

On my first day of residency, I was very nervous. I started off-cycle, and was worried about being looked at as the new outsider. What happened was the complete opposite. I was greeted with both warm smiles and welcomes. I was offered help and advice on settling in, and I was asked if I needed anything. I grew with my co-residents. We felt like a second family in our “home away from home.” I gave it my best, and so did they. We shared knowledge, advice, good times, and bad times. I learned about them, and met their family members and significant others. I attended Thanksgiving dinners, and learned a lot about baseball and football. By the way, I’ll be a NY Yankees, NY Giants, and Brooklyn Nets fan for life. During graduation, all our families met as well. We were so happy and proud. We did it together!

Fellowship graduation

I must also reflect back to the greatest challenge I faced during my time in the US. Due to circumstances out of my hands, my (then pregnant) wife, and daughter, could not join me until a year later. The faculty and residents were very supportive during this time and always asked for updates and offered support. I couldn’t attend my child’s birth, but we were all reunited eventually, and I introduced my family to everyone!

I am very proud to have received awards such as “Resident of the Year” and to have been voted to be chief resident. After residency, I started a new adventure, and began a fellowship in Pediatric Emergency Medicine. Once again, I made close friends and had caring mentors. I chose this field because I enjoy it. But, it is also a very rare specialty back home. When finished, I once again celebrated my fellowship graduation with everyone. There were smiles and tears shared.

Final shift

A few days before my return to Saudi Arabia, I contacted and passed by everyone to say my farewells. Our neighbors, our friends, the hospital staff, the owner of the deli where I used to shop at daily, and our children’s school staff and teachers. While saying goodbye to a friend, he used an Arabic proverb. He did not speak Arabic or have any Middle Eastern heritage. It was just something he learned from me, and he really liked it. I realized then that I had an impact in people’s lives. I also remembered the parents of a child I took care of who came back a week after his discharge to give me home-baked bread as a “thank you”.

My time in the United States was not just about advancing my medical training. I grew as a person as well. I gained social knowledge, learned about different cultures, shared my own culture, and made many great friends. It was a great and irreplaceable experience for my family and me. I encourage everyone planning a similar journey or just starting one to have an open mind and a positive attitude. You will gain so much more if you do.