By Vishal Kumar, MD
“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.
With passion and determination, I began my expedition. My faith in God buoyed my spirit; I knew that He was writing my story as I lived it. I was able to pass the USMLE with good scores, and I got the opportunity to do electives and research at different US institutions. Although I was somewhat disappointed when I matched into a preliminary rather than a categorical position, I knew I had to work extra hard and make the best of the situation.
Once I got to my first program in Saint Louis, I was surprised at how quickly I felt at home. Co-residents were my friends and mentors. Not only did they help me become a better intern, but they also taught me American slang and how to drive. Because of this support, I never missed home as much as I thought I would. My co-residents also learned from me. They told me that my positive attitude and cheery personality inspired them to make the best of difficult situations. It takes only one smile to make a place in one’s heart, for it’s the language that everyone speaks and understands. To me, they were my family. Together we shared love, happiness and tears. The nurses were also an amazing support system. They helped me professionally by teaching me to care for the sick and personally by making me food and keeping me fed at all times.
I applied for the Match again, and I still did not get a categorical spot for the second year in a row. I was discouraged, but I did not give up. Instead, I took a job as a preliminary PGY2 in Cleveland. I was sad to leave Saint Louis, as I knew I could never recreate the relationships I had formed. It was a bitter and sweet farewell. Bitter because I knew, I won’t find homies like them and sweet since I came to know how much they loved me. Before I left, the nurses threw me a farewell party, and one even offered to drive me eight hours to my new town. The residents nominated me the mascot of surgery at their program. I am still in touch with them, and they still remember me by many nicknames: funny boy, happy soul, smart guy, Vishal with V and The Vishal.
After the revelry of my internship graduation, the party was over. I knew I had only one more year to secure a categorical spot. Otherwise, I would return to Pakistan with nothing to show for my time in the USA. Fortunately, I was at a program that had a high case load and allowed me to practice my technical skills. I assisted in some great cases and it further developed my approach for dealing with complicated surgical consults.
Meanwhile, I applied to every PGY3 categorical position that I came across, but I faced rejection each time. I was worried that I would never become a surgeon in the USA. By May, my mentors and friends were having the same fears. Nonetheless, I continued to work hard and had faith in Him from the beginning; my belief was that I am not alone. The reason I am here is because I can do it, if not then I was not meant to be here in the first place.
Just when I was resigned to move back to Pakistan, I was informed about a job opening at a program in a neighboring state. I immediately applied. I was invited for an interview that week. After the interview, as I drove back home, the program director at the new program called me and offered me a job which was nothing more than a blessing. I am now a PGY3 categorical surgery resident in Pennsylvania.
Although I have not yet completed my residency, I feel like I have overcome incredible odds. I do not, however, tell this story to boast of my success. Rather, I hope to inspire other IMGs who dream of a surgery residency in the USA. If I can do it, you can too! I want to encourage others out there who are starting where I was a few years ago.
I will say a few things to my friends out there reading this, which I learned throughout these years:
- It’s not the task that decides how hard it is, it’s your will which makes its easy.
- Quitting is always an option but not for champs.
- Never ever sacrifice your dream for the sake of convenience, for that’s the soul in your body.
In the end I would say that miracles happen, but only if you believe it!