It was 2:00 AM at Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport, moments before a long trip to the United States. I was drinking coffee and trying desperately to distract myself. At the time, I was 30 years old, recently engaged, and a fresh graduate in pulmonary and critical care. I was on my way to begin a U.S. graduate medical education program on a J-1 visa for subspecialty training in neurocritical care.
I am a pediatric intensivist, and I am from Nigeria. As an intensivist in the US, I offer multi-disciplinary care to children who are critically ill, in an ICU environment. Our team offers various forms of support for any organ-system failure ranging from tracheal intubation/mechanical ventilation to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). However, in Nigeria and most other low and middle income (LMIC) countries, children who are critically ill are not cared for in an ICU environment. Most of the hospitals in these resource-limited settings lack the capacity and resources to intubate and mechanically ventilate children who are in respiratory failure from varied causes. As you read this blog, if a child goes to any of the major tertiary pediatric institutions in these regions, in respiratory failure or has any major organ-systems dysfunction, the fate of that child is grim. There are millions of such children, even at this moment.
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.”
“Hello! Who are you, where do you come from?” They asked with their hand offered forward. I was starting my fellowship at the Kleinert Hand Institute.
I was always puzzled when I was asked this question. I was a visible minority even back in my hometown, although I was born there. What do they want to know? Where I am originally from? Where I was born and grew up? Where I went for university, or the program I graduated from?
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.