By Dr. Ayse Canturk
Since I started in high school, I have been away from my home to study. At 13 years old, it was hard. Now I realize hard moments prepare you for great achievements along the way. The question is how to pass hard moments: for some of us, it is difficult to see the end prize in the beginning, because the road is multifactorial. However, the purpose of the journey is learning patience and endurance, not the destination itself. All I ever wanted was to do good, affect good, make a positive impact. We all should start walking with purpose, with good intentions. The destination may be different than initially thought, but it might be even better than our dreams.
As Steve Jobs says, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Let me tell you my story, which I hope will positively impact you when you are in a situation like I was, with good intentions but an unknown destination.
I passed my high school exams and applied to medical school in Turkey. Since I was away from home during high school, my family, especially my dad, wanted me to come home for university. (Most people go out to live by themselves during college years, my case was the opposite.) I wanted to make my parents content, so I started medical school in my home county, and did great. I will never forget one of the first genetics lectures I heard by Dr. Ali Sazci. He said, “Open your eyes wide, discover what is out there.” After the lecture, I immediately went to his office and asked him to tell me more. He gave me the idea to do rotations in the U.S. during the summer. As he suggested, I started working as a first-year medical student, and did rotations in U.S. hospitals. I got accepted my first year for a pathology rotation in a very well-known hospital in Texas, then started coming every summer for other clinical rotations. I met so many great, knowledgeable people. I saw them make such a positive impact on me and others, yet they were so humble.
Meanwhile, for the sake of discovery, I joined an exchange medical program in Italy. I learned the Italian language and attended medical school for 8 months there when I was a fourth-year medical student. I also went to Taiwan for a research project for a month. Having received the benefit of learning from the world’s best, I want to make a good impact as well. I was honored with the role of being the responsible student in my school for the international exchange program. In this position, I welcomed international students to my medical school, arranged medical and social programs for them, and had the opportunity to join more international projects, including a cardiology rotation in Egypt.
These unique international experiences taught me that we are all one. We are all in a communicative environment, and affect each other, either positively or negatively. From a medical standpoint, thanks to the internet and globalization, we get updates in technology at almost the same time (at least comparing Turkey vs the U.S.). It does not matter which language we speak, what religion we believe in, what color we are, we cry for the same sadness, smile, and laugh at similar things. All of my international experiences were great, however, what made me attracted to the U.S. is that I can touch the hearts of all human beings, can help to heal their disease regardless of where they come from, or what story they have in the past. By training in the U.S., I can contribute to healing more people from all over the world.
After my medical school graduation, I wanted to be a strong candidate for residency. I decided to do one year of research to improve myself by getting more experience and becoming accustomed to U.S. life. I was accepted to an institution for a year of research. I worked very hard and was successful in the position, and I was asked to work for another year. However, I wanted to be more involved in a clinical environment, to see patients and examine, interact, and contribute to their care directly. For these reasons, unfortunately, I did not accept the offer to stay for another year.
Next I passed my USMLE steps successfully, and I was ready to apply for my residency. In the midst of these preparations, a most wonderful thing happened. My dream to go to Harvard (even my grandmother’s dream for me) came true. I was accepted to the Harvard Global Clinical Scholars Research Training (GCSRT) program with a scholarship. The program chooses only 1 or 2 MDs from each country every year, and I was chosen from Turkey. I wouldn’t say no to my dream. I spent that year eagerly working on projects for the Harvard GCSRT program while also preparing my residency applications.
I advise you to never underestimate the value of even small acts of goodwill. During my medical school years, we had scholars visit from Harvard Medical School. I volunteered to help show them around and arrange meetings while they were in Kocaeli, Turkey. We all stayed in touch and I became best friends with one of the visiting scholars, Cherie. Cherie and I came together again during my time in the Harvard GCSRT program to collaborate on a project about bilateral cultural/educational experiences. When it was accepted we presented it at the Harvard Medical School (HMS) Medical Education Day. During that time, I met wonderful Harvard faculty. I must mention Dr. Eric Fleegler as he gave me continuous support and encouragement. The program was terrific, and it was such a unique experience to work with HMS faculty, and selected medical doctors from all over the world.
Meanwhile, I had completed my residency interviews, and I was pleased to match to Carney Hospital in Boston. Was the path always easy? No. Did it all happen exactly as I planned? No. Were they discouraging moments? Definitely!
Now looking back, as Steve Jobs said, connecting the dots and trying to understand myself and my path… It is clear that everything had a reason. I have met awesome people throughout my journey, I have learned from them, I want to be like them. I have also met some people who challenged me, however, if your intentions are good the struggle will reward you. Believe in yourself, bring your good intentions with you every day and do good work. If you do, the destination will be even better than you can imagine. Even if your journey is not what you expect, once you connect the dots backward, you will understand the big surprise!
I would like to specifically thank my family, Dr. Sazci, Dr. Nuh Zafer Canturk, Dr. Fleegler, and Dr. Cherie Ramirez for their endless support. I also appreciate the ECFMG family for helping to bring this story to life to inspire others.