The arduous winding journey for international medical graduates seeking to continue medical education in the United States is one only for the brave at heart. From the grueling USMLE exams to the apprehension of Visa interviews at the US embassies, with a melange of sweetness whenever that FedEx envelope arrives with your ECFMG certification, culminating on Match Day where you finally get to know if you have been accepted into a program— is a summary of years of hard work, dedication and huge financial commitment. For those who make the mistake of thinking the process of getting in is the hardest, they soon learn that staying in is probably harder, confronted with an entirely new system of medical practice, far away from loved ones and the comfort of a familiar environment. What has kept many international graduates going is finding your purpose, understanding why you put in so much of your life to get to this point.
Have you ever done something for the first time and had great anxiety about doing it? If your answer is yes, we are in the same boat.
When I started my residency training as a first-year psychiatry resident, I had many fears and worries. Imagine a doctor who has to work in another country, use English as her second language, and see patients in a diverse population. I had fear that my patients wouldn’t be able to understand my accent; fear of judgment from my colleagues; and fear of making mistakes. The working environment in the United States is far different from Thailand. I used to write paper chart back in my country, but now I have to type everything to the Electronic Medical Record (EMR). In Thailand we have Universal Health Care Coverage, unlike the healthcare system in the United States, where everyone has insurance.
My Name is Mazin Alhamdani. I am a native of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Ever since I was in medical school, I dreamt about pursuing post graduate medical training in the United States. I wanted this not only for the outstanding medical training, but also for the integrated training structure, and emphasis on ethics and professionalism. I studied for my USMLE exams while working as a resident in Saudi Arabia. I obtained good scores and began applying to residency programs. I was lucky enough to be accepted at a pediatric residency program in New York City, the “Big Apple.”
“Hello! Who are you, where do you come from?” They asked with their hand offered forward. I was starting my fellowship at the Kleinert Hand Institute.
I was always puzzled when I was asked this question. I was a visible minority even back in my hometown, although I was born there. What do they want to know? Where I am originally from? Where I was born and grew up? Where I went for university, or the program I graduated from?
In 2002, the Mountain Goats, an American folk band led by John Darnielle, released an album titled All Hail West Texas. The first thing that struck me about the early years of the Mountain Goat’s records were how sparse they were, if this was stylistic choice or a means to an end, I do not know. It is well known that those early records produced by John Darnielle were recorded on a Panasonic RX-FT500 cassette tape recorder. The very last album he recorded in this way was about my current home, West Texas. In a lot of ways, the album resembles its namesake with its subdued melodies juxtaposed in a very plain, drawn out canvas the same way the West Texas sky colors, with its unique reddish hue and dispersed cotton candy clouds, the endless roads seasoned with scattered oil pumps throughout. This place is not for everyone, the same way the record is not. But when you see the beauty of infinity with an unraveling clear starlit sky and a sprawling desert that suddenly turns into mountains, it’s easy to understand why Darnielle sang about wanting these highways to be a Mobius strip that he could ride forever.