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Embracing Challenges: From IMG to Program Director

By Dr. Tanaya Sparkle

In 2010, as a young and ambitious medical student, I found myself at a crossroads in my career; I was considering leaving my home country of India to pursue advanced medical training in anesthesiology in the United States. A decade later, in 2020, I was presented with a remarkable opportunity to serve as the program director of the anesthesiology residency training program at The University of Toledo. My passion for anesthesiology and my experience as an international medical graduate (IMG) led me to take this role supporting aspiring physician IMGs, like I once was.

Like most IMGs, my decision to leave behind my family, friends, and the comfort of familiar surroundings to train in the United States was not easy. However, because of my inability to envision myself dedicating a lifetime to any other medical specialty, I resolved that if I could not pursue my passion in anesthesiology, I would rather abandon medicine altogether and pursue a career in administration. After a Match Week filled with trials and uncertainty, I found myself on the other end with an anesthesiology residency position!

Revisiting my own graduation memories

I arrived in the United States with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I was welcomed into a reputable medical institution that embraced diversity and nurtured the dreams of aspiring healthcare professionals: The University of Texas at Houston. During my residency, I encountered numerous challenges, including adapting to a new culture, mastering a different healthcare system, and overcoming accent barriers. However, I found solace in the company of individuals who, despite never having experienced the same challenges as I did, made a genuine effort to comprehend and empathize with my struggles. In finding my tribe, I discovered a profound support system that quickly transformed into lifelong friendships. Unwavering dedication and a resilient spirit propelled me forward.

Throughout my journey, I dedicated countless hours to honing my clinical skills, tirelessly striving to improve day by day. I also placed great emphasis on fostering meaningful connections with colleagues hailing from diverse backgrounds. Along this path, I was fortunate to encounter numerous mentors who graciously acknowledged my efforts and offered invaluable guidance. Their unwavering support urged me to embark on further fellowship training and explore new horizons beyond the realm of clinical practice. Ultimately, it was through their wisdom and encouragement that I found myself humbly assuming the role of a program director. Accepting this position posed a unique challenge as I was in the midst of a pregnancy. Still, despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, I embraced the role: I knew it was my chance to shape the lives of up-and-coming healthcare professionals and impart the values and skills I had acquired throughout my medical career to improve their future.

Being a program director has ignited a passion within me for teaching, curriculum development, and mentorship; I actively seek further opportunities to engage in these areas. In our program, I aim to create an environment that fosters excellence, compassion, and growth. I am currently in the process of attaining a Master’s degree in Business Administration. Through this, I hope that my impact on the fields of anesthesiology and graduate medical education will further extend beyond the walls of my institution to create global change.

Year after year, as I review the applications of countless new physicians, I want nothing but to share my unwavering belief in every trainee’s potential and tell them to pursue their dreams and embrace the challenges they meet. Pursuing our dreams is a journey of self-discovery—an exploration of our deepest desires and aspirations. It is a call to venture into uncharted territories, take risks, and step outside the confines of our comfort zones. I hope all physician trainees choose to believe in the transformative power of passion, resilience, and the pursuit of one’s dreams.