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Of New Beginnings and Second Chances

Dr. Oluwatobi OdetolaBy Dr. Oluwatobi Odetola

As I sit in a dear friend’s apartment in New York, basking in the nothingness of vacation, I realize that the time left in the intern year of my Internal Medicine training can no longer be measured in months. It has been quite the year and I am part trepid, part excited to transition into a senior role in the next academic year.

This is not the first of such transitions for me, and neither was Match Day 2018 my first dance with the NRMP. I first moved to the United States in 2016 to begin an Anatomic Pathology/Clinical Pathology (AP/CP) residency. I remember putting all I owned into two travel bags – more like haphazardly stuffing the bags – and getting on the long-haul flight to Chicago, to begin the next phase of my seemingly never-ending medical training. I was excited and grateful to be part of the next group of exchange visitor physicians.

Nevertheless, it was a bumpy start as my application for a social security number found its way into the tortuous world of background checks and administrative processing. The six weeks it took for me to be found worthy were undeniably tough – I was unable to secure housing, complete onboarding processes, etc. – but I could not have asked to be surrounded and supported by more wonderful people. From the leadership of my residency program to the resident group, and from the hospital GME Office to the staff at the ECFMG’s ESVP Office, I received tremendous help – including a warm, cozy bed – until the issues were resolved and thereafter.

Early morning view from the Pathology Residents’ room

I quickly got past the rough start with paperwork as the hustle and bustle of the AP/CP program caught on. Like everyone says, I learned a ton. I actually mean it; in arguably one of the best environments I have ever been, I went from being a Pathology novice to being comfortable at the microscope. A potpourri of trainees and faculty from different backgrounds and ethnicities, I fit right in as a J-1 exchange visitor physician.

However, I then decided to literally switch hospital floors and transfer to an Internal Medicine residency. This was a decision that I did not take lightly. I even did a specially arranged Medicine elective, acting in the role of an intern, to support my decision making. The difficulty of finding the courage to discuss the topic with one’s program director and doing everything else required to switch specialties cannot be fully described in just one sentence.

A visiting sibling, just before joining the foam party

The wisdom of it will be best judged years down the road. However, I enjoy what I do – did I mention that I have the privilege of participating in the care of the nation’s veterans? – and I remain grateful for the opportunity to undergo graduate medical training in the United States. The tremendous support I mentioned earlier was again ever present during the process of switching specialties as I could not have done it without the help of my Pathology program leadership, co-residents and the amazing staff at the hospital’s GME office. I was fortunate to remain at the same hospital – not alluding to any superpower but moving is my kryptonite – and I have mostly kept the same acquaintances/friends while making new ones. Remaining in Chicagoland also means that I get to continue to explore its diverse offering of authentic cuisines, attend a Chicago Cubs game yearly (more like a carnival) sponsored by the GME office, and simmer in its very mild winters among many other wonders of living here.

My time as a J-1 resident physician in the U.S. has been full of new beginnings, new opportunities for myself and for others – my sisters have been able to visit me in the U.S. since I have been here. While I am still in training, it is incontrovertible that I am a better physician than the one that left Lagos, Nigeria – where my ever-supportive family resides – three years ago. Even in the face of the long hours, days, months and years of residency, I remain thankful.