By Dr. Esha Jain
Nothing worth having comes easy.
Each journey in medicine is unique, but all are full of grit, strength, and motivation. I write this blog post in the hopes that you can derive inspiration during your experience as an international medical graduate. By no means is this an easy route, but it is incredibly worth it, and I would not have had it any other way.
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to practice medicine. Perhaps it was due to my early introduction to medicine through my father, who is also a physician. Or maybe it was due to my grandpa’s resilient nature, and his outstanding medical care, as he battled stage IV gastric cancer. Or it could have been due to the vulnerable moments where I was a patient myself, seeking compassionate and life-saving medical care. Whatever the reason may be, I knew I was destined to be a physician. My path was not linear. I faced what seemed to be insurmountable challenges. However, I drew upon my father’s hard-working nature, my grandfather’s resilient attitude, and my own inner strength, to overcome the barriers I faced.
Navigating medical school in the foreign country of Antigua was the first of many challenges I faced. We often do not realize how crucial creating a strong support system is. In 2014, I was elated to pursue my dreams of becoming a physician. However, something was missing. I felt alone, I felt inadequate, I felt afraid, I felt an overwhelming sense of not being able to live up to my potential and my dreams. It did not take very long for me to realize I was not practicing a healthy mindset. I have always prided myself on being happy and smiling in the face of failures, but this time I could not force my way through my feelings alone. I needed help, so I asked for it. I approached the dean of my school, told him my story, and he provided me with valuable advice and strategies for my future. I subsequently decided that I needed to take time away from medical school so I could come back stronger. I spent a year focusing on my physical and mental growth. I drew upon my father’s story of hard work and persistence when he immigrated from India to Canada to pursue his dreams of becoming a urologist. He came to Canada to provide a better life for his children. As an international medical graduate, there was only one spot for his specialty in Toronto, and he got it! He and my mother shared their challenges with me so that I could learn to persevere even during the toughest of times. Their sacrifices paved the way for my future successes. He instilled in me that nothing worthwhile would ever come easy, but with faith, determination, and support, I would be successful. I returned to Antigua to complete medical school in 2016 and found myself excelling. I was finally opening my eyes to my own potential and was eternally grateful.
What I once thought was a devastating moment I now consider one of my greatest blessings. After graduating from medical school in 2021, I was all set to apply for the upcoming 2021-2022 match cycle. As COVID-19 changed the face of the match season, I found myself yet again desperate. October had rolled on by, then November, and December, and I was patiently waiting, refreshing my emails, sitting by my phone, for any hopes of an interview. I always heard the line “one is just enough” in reference to interviews for a match. I guess that was a pitiful way to provide myself hope. After completing just two interviews, I knew I had not done enough. I graduated in April 2021, but it was bittersweet, as I had learned one month earlier that I had failed to match. Once again, I was plagued with numerous doubts about myself, my application, and my interview skills. I reflected upon my previous failures and comebacks and resolved to make the next four to five months (until the following match cycle) very productive. They say hindsight is 20/20. I had realized my application was lacking sufficient substance during my first cycle. I also understood that my interviewing skills were not on par with my peers. I worked extremely hard to make sure I would not be in this position again.
I was able to go through the match cycle for the second time with a confident outlook. I gained enough interviews to safely know I would match. I was in shock, and honestly, I still am today. I took initiative and acted on all the advice I was given. Most importantly, I showed myself how much potential I truly have. I feel so lucky to have matched into my dream specialty at my dream program. I have been able to grow as an intern and immerse myself in providing high-quality, patient-centered care. I continue to learn from my peers, my colleagues, and my faculty. My resilient nature has allowed me to face the unknown hardships of residency with a successful outlook.
It is tough as an international medical graduate to gain a residency spot in a system we know very little about. It is even tougher to navigate this all on your own. The best thing I ever did for myself was to ask for help and act on the advice given to me. I encourage you all, in the face of adversities, to rise to the challenge and ask for help when needed. The fastest way to fail is to give up. I look forward to motivating my peers, my patients, and myself in the future. I wish you all the best of luck in your journey to medicine, and I am truly grateful to be a successful international medical graduate!