“Surgery in the USA, huh? Do you know what are you doing with your life?” That was a quote from one of my friends.
Surgery is the most precious thing that happened to me. It was my dream to be a surgeon, but things got complicated when training in the USA came into play. I, like most of my friends during my medical school, thought surgery residency in the USA was an impossible task to accomplish, given the visa, high test scores, and research required to be competitive with US medical graduates. I dreamt of being a surgeon, day and night since childhood. So to me it was like a vision that only I was able to see, the passion only I was able to feel, the road only I had to walk, so that when I eventually make it come true it will become a hope for the people around me.
The arduous winding journey for international medical graduates seeking to continue medical education in the United States is one only for the brave at heart. From the grueling USMLE exams to the apprehension of Visa interviews at the US embassies, with a melange of sweetness whenever that FedEx envelope arrives with your ECFMG certification, culminating on Match Day where you finally get to know if you have been accepted into a program— is a summary of years of hard work, dedication and huge financial commitment. For those who make the mistake of thinking the process of getting in is the hardest, they soon learn that staying in is probably harder, confronted with an entirely new system of medical practice, far away from loved ones and the comfort of a familiar environment. What has kept many international graduates going is finding your purpose, understanding why you put in so much of your life to get to this point.
Have you ever done something for the first time and had great anxiety about doing it? If your answer is yes, we are in the same boat.
When I started my residency training as a first-year psychiatry resident, I had many fears and worries. Imagine a doctor who has to work in another country, use English as her second language, and see patients in a diverse population. I had fear that my patients wouldn’t be able to understand my accent; fear of judgment from my colleagues; and fear of making mistakes. The working environment in the United States is far different from Thailand. I used to write paper chart back in my country, but now I have to type everything to the Electronic Medical Record (EMR). In Thailand we have Universal Health Care Coverage, unlike the healthcare system in the United States, where everyone has insurance.
“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?
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.