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One Size Does Not Fit All: IMG Wellness

By Dr. Priyanka Majety

It was Match Day! I’d been waiting for this day for three long years. As I opened the email with my trembling hands, I saw it. I refreshed the email to make sure it was real. I felt a roller coaster of emotions: I was elated, surprised, and relieved all at the same time. It was my dream come true. I matched to a university program in Boston. The next few days, I kept myself busy with paperwork and family celebrations. And then it hit me that I was going to leave my cocoon of comfort and move 7,984 miles away from home.

Time flew and there I was—standing at the main entrance of my hospital in my crisp new blue scrubs, wide-eyed with both excitement and anxiety—on my first day as an intern in internal medicine. I found my first several months in Boston to be long, dark, and depressing. I had a severe case of impostor syndrome. I was often the last intern to leave the hospital, as I was slow at typing. I wasn’t sure if my patients were able to understand me because of my accent. I didn’t think that I was going to make it. I felt like I was drowning and there was no way out. I was too shy to talk about my feelings to anyone. My friends and seniors kept telling me there would be a magical moment when things would turn around and everything would make sense. I wasn’t so sure that it was going to happen in my case. I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t the first one to complete internal medicine residency in the United States and that this too shall pass.

Intern year retreat

To my surprise, it happened. My “magical moment” came precisely five months into residency, while I was on a busy cardiology rotation. I was capped at ten patients, most of whom were very sick and had just been transferred out of the ICU. I had two pending discharges, two pending admissions, and two rapid responses that day. Finally, as the day came to an end and we were wrapping up PM rounds, my favorite attending said, “Great job team!” And I felt it. It finally all made sense. I was in my element. I had enjoyed that busy day and I was good at it.

During the next few months, colleagues became great friends and daily moments became memories—memories that I will cherish for a very long time to come. Although the intern year was mentally, physically, and emotionally draining, it was all doable because of the friends in my program, who became like family to go to. Friends who grabbed breakfast for me when I was running around, who took the time to give me a hug when I was having a bad day, who asked me to stop and pause when I needed to, and who asked me if everything was okay. These little acts of kindness meant a lot and pushed me forward.

It was not all dark and gloomy. Many days, I was over the moon… perhaps because of a correct diagnosis I had made, because I placed a central line on my first attempt, or because my patients thanked me heartily. Some days were great because I got to work alongside innovators in medicine, and others because I was able to kick back and enjoy a Celtics game with my friends.

Diwali dinner

As my intern year came to an end, I decided to join the resident wellness committee—a committee that had helped me settle into residency. I wanted to give back and contribute my bit. They readily welcomed the idea of a program focusing on IMGs and listened to me patiently, as I described to them my own experience and shared an IMG’s perspective of the intern year. Apart from advancing in our academic training, many IMGs are faced with trying to understand the differences in US medical practice, adapting to a different culture, and proving ourselves in an unfamiliar world, all while missing home dearly.

With the help of the faculty and committee members, I founded the IMG wellness committee along with fellow IMGs in my class. Our aim was simple, to acknowledge that the challenges IMGs face are unique, and to make their transition into residency smoother. We wanted these issues to be heard and understood and we wanted to create a platform for that to happen.

Kygo concert in the pre-COVID times

The next academic year, we had four IMGs match into our program. We first connected with the incoming IMGs a few months before they started residency. From that point, we met with them every 3 months during their first year. This gave them a chance to ask us questions one-on-one, and we provided help when they needed it. We discussed various issues during those meetings: everything from our collective typing speed of 20 words per minute to the best Indian restaurants in town, how best to survive night float, and how to meet new people with similar interests outside of work. We logged some of the suggestions into a document to serve as a takeaway resource. Members were encouraged to circulate the document and add to it as time passed. It was a pay-it-forward system where the next class of IMGs continued the process and passed on the resource. We created the group to connect and help new IMGs, but it was me who often learned and gained so much from our encounters. Founding the group and watching it flourish was a very satisfying experience.

When I look back, I realize now that—despite its challenges—this was the experience that I had wanted all along, that I and so many others had worked so hard for. Nothing in life comes without ups and downs, and residency was no exception. Remember that it’s okay to need a little push at times or to get some help to realize your dreams. Our hope with the IMG wellness committee was just that, and through it we helped improve each other’s journeys. I owe a lot of who I am today to my residency training. I will be forever grateful for the opportunities I was given to learn, grow, and empower myself.