It was November, and I was in the second year of my cardiology fellowship when I received a phone call from my brother in Saudi Arabia. It was an odd time for him to call me. I picked up and listened to his frantic voice: “Khalid, our mother had a cardiac arrest. She is in ER! Intubated! Going to ICU. I will call you back… I have to go…I will call you back!” I was at my apartment in Ohio, thousands of miles away, as my whole life was turning upside down. After about 15-20 long minutes, I spoke with my brother again: “Khalid, she just passed away!” Just like that, she was gone.
It is a common refrain that “things get better.” I now strongly believe that is true, but I didn’t always. I went through many ups and downs on my journey in medicine, such as dealing with homesickness, weathering professional and personal hardships, and trying to make good impressions and forge meaningful connections as an introvert. I navigated all of this before I understood that of course things will always, eventually get better—because when you are at your lowest, there is only one way to go: up.
Dear fellow international medical graduates (IMGs):
We, like our U.S.-graduate counterparts, are hardworking and highly resilient in our pursuit of residency. We are all excited yet daunted by the prospect of transitioning from medical school to internship, as this new phase brings increased responsibility and autonomy. We all rush to meet deadlines and gather stack upon stack of required paperwork to jump off the page and qualify for selection. However, IMGs often face unique obstacles that we must overcome in preparation for and as we matriculate in our residencies in the United States. For example, as a Lebanese applicant, I was faced with regular electricity outages, civil rights movements interrupting my normal workflow, and severe financial limitations due to the fastest rate of hyperinflation in modern history in my country. I had to embrace instability and uncertainty and always aim to thrive from within the chaos. I am certain that many of my fellow IMGs faced similar challenges in their efforts to begin residency in the United States. Especially in this time of the pandemic, we all dealt with some level of economic and political instability in our homelands, not to mention the multiple waves of quarantine, uncertainty, and fear. If you are going through this process now, I send you a message of strength: you will persevere.
“Did you see any COVID-19 patients today?” my wife nervously asked as I entered our home. I was clad in an N-95 mask for the first time. “Not yet” I replied.
My mask and her concerns were well-warranted; we were about to be first-time parents, and she was in her last trimester. Our relatives and friends would routinely ask, “When is your gift from God coming?” and we always cautiously replied, “Anytime now, just pray—you know how times are….”
Living abroad alone is never easy. Neither are the physical and mental demands of becoming a new intern. For international medical graduates, there are also added pressures. At times, you feel like you must try “extra hard” to prove yourself, that you are worthy of this opportunity. After a long day at work, you go home to find yourself alone, and it can be lonely. You need someone with whom you can share your silly joke, your bad days, your good days, or just to be there. People who can be your family and your home. When interviewing for residency positions, apart from getting to know the program, you hope that you will find such people in your future co-residents. However, especially with the current Zoom interview process, you can’t know for sure until you really start the journey.