By Dr. Kushinga Bvute
We were young, happy, in love, and planning for the future. My husband thought that it would be prudent to explore the possibility of furthering our careers abroad to ensure a secure future for our family. He was a banker but also very passionate about farming. I was fresh from university and not yet established, so we decided that I would be the first to pursue opportunities abroad.
My journey to medicine began when I earned 20 points at A-level from Chisipite Senior School. I went on to graduate with honors from the University of Zimbabwe in 2005. I have always been extremely goal-driven, ambitious, and passionate about medicine, but I was more excited about being a mother. Motherhood was like a dream I had never imagined. I completed a rigorous internship at Harare Central Hospital in my first two trimesters of pregnancy and finished my residency interviews and my USMLE step 3 during my third trimester. I was in a great situation that many women dream of, a fantastic work-life balance and a happy family. When my husband suggested relocating, I knew the time had come to soar higher in my career. Scared of the unknown with my then four-month-old son, my husband saw us off at the airport as I ventured into my graduate medical education in Pathology at Georgetown University Hospital, Washington D.C.
Residency was much tougher than I envisioned. I was far away from my husband and from my immediate family who had always served as a great support system and I was juggling a toddler. I was also nine months pregnant with our second son halfway through my PGY-2. Although I was thriving in my academic career, I was homesick. I longed for familiarity so I decided that I was going to spend my maternity leave in Zimbabwe, which would give me six weeks with my family before I had to resume my studies at Georgetown.
Back in Zimbabwe, everything was exactly how I hoped it would be and it was precisely what I needed at the time. As I prepared for my trip back to the USA, the embassy regretfully informed me that I wouldn’t be able to renew my J-1 visa. I was numb, shocked, and devastated! My husband was actively involved in the management of the Zimbabwe cricket team at a time when political tension was high. By virtue of being married to him, I had inherited the travel restrictions he had been placed on. After writing appeals to try and reinstate my visa, I had to accept that I was not going to complete my graduate medical education.
I came to terms with my new reality, realigned my priorities, and spent time raising and nurturing my two wonderful children. To further my leadership skills, I ventured into business in the agricultural industry and public health. This gave me the flexibility of being present for my sons while also providing an earning. Even though my career was on a different trajectory, my passion for medicine remained.
Ten years later I found myself in a failing marriage, but the silver lining was that the travel restrictions that had previously restricted me from returning to Georgetown to complete my studies had been lifted. I knew that, in order to emancipate myself, I had to follow my calling to medicine.
I returned to the USA with my two sons in the spring of 2017. I was ready, excited, and extremely motivated to return to medicine. Nothing or no one at this point was going to stand in the way of me becoming a licensed physician. To ensure compliance with medical licensing requirements for my state, I had to retake all of the USMLE’s. Pathology was my first love, but I had spent so many years working in employee health that my career interest was now in a clinically oriented specialty. I was an older graduate amongst my peers, and I was now changing specialties—what a mental and physical hurdle. I embraced the challenge of overcoming these two obstacles into residency but unfortunately, in 2019, I didn’t match. Returning to residency was a necessity that I had to fight for, as my self-worth relied on it. I was disappointed that I didn’t match, but one look at my sons reassured me that I couldn’t give up. It simply was not an option. God gave me the strength to persevere especially during times when I was unsure of where I was headed or what the outcome would be.
Despite all the hardships and hurdles I had faced; unexpected doors seemed to open. I sought guidance and feedback from my mentors at Loma Linda University, where I was pursuing a Master of Public Health, who helped me immensely. I started to expand my leadership roles and became active in medical societies. I volunteered at a blood bank and championed causes that were dear to me like preventive care. I had to address the concern that I had no U.S. clinical experience, so I plunged into the clinical world through observations and externships in different states. After completing my master’s degree, I worked on a research project comparing the outcomes of steroid injections for work-related back injuries. I became a contributing author in a pharmacology text for chapters on antibiotics and antiretrovirals and published a paper on tuberculosis hospitalizations in the USA. My previous faculty from Georgetown University Hospital supported my return to residency with their vote of confidence.
The beauty of God’s plan became clearer to me. He was not ignoring my prayers, but rather was utilizing all of my experiences to prepare me for a future I could have never imagined. I interviewed in over a dozen programs during my 2020 residency application cycle and I matched into Internal Medicine at Florida Atlantic University. My journey back to medicine demanded a breakthrough and I am proud of myself for having the resilience and diligence to overcome the challenges I faced.
Residency a second time around is more manageable as my boys are older and I am mentally mature. Nurturing and raising my sons alone in a foreign country is still tough but coming along very well. I worked extremely hard to get here and continue to do so. I am thankful for our close-knit family and my supportive friends. The boys and I have assimilated well, and the U.S. will be our home until I complete my training. Returning to medicine has been refreshing and my dream has come true. I am living my life with a greater purpose to serve mankind and to use my gift of learning to restore health through medicine. I have an amazing work-family at Florida Atlantic University and have an exciting future ahead.