By Katie Powell Exchange Visitor Cultural and Educational Affairs Program Manager, ECFMG
It was a beautiful fall day, 55 degrees and sunny, in our nation’s “Big Apple.” The sound of spectators and volunteers cheering rose from the sidewalks as more than 50,000 runners persevered along the city streets. It was a perfect setting to introduce exchange visitor physicians to the New York City (NYC) Marathon, an American tradition 48 years strong. We were gathered for a day of volunteerism and cross-cultural sharing with the aim of fostering international understanding in line with the spirit and intent of the J-1 visa program we represent.
ECFMG serves as the sole sponsor for nearly 11,000 foreign national physicians participating in the U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Visitor (J-1 Visa) Program to train in U.S. programs of graduate medical education. Each year, the U.S. Department of State (DoS) reaches out to program sponsors to plan an exchange-visitor volunteering event at the NYC Marathon. The idea is to bring exchange visitors from all different sponsorship categories—of which there are scholars, trainees, physicians, and more—together for a cross-cultural activity. It also gives exchange visitors the opportunity to connect with each other and engage in an exciting volunteer event supporting marathon runners from around the world.
I took a few minutes from my dayshift and ran into the nearest computer station. I calculated the time difference between the Eastern Time of the United States and Beirut for the tenth time. As I opened my email I had to make sure I was not misreading the words, “Congratulations, you have matched!” it said. Between the sigh of relief and the energetic mix of emotions, I could sense the smell of formaldehyde from the anatomy lab again and I could remember the late night study sessions, and it felt strangely more familiar than ever. Three months later, my paperwork and medical license have all been approved and it was time to say goodbye to the sunny days of Beirut and to welcome new beginnings in the windy city of Chicago.
Chicago offered nothing to dislike about it. The warmth of a very culturally diverse program and the amazing city scenes helped to ease the homesickness and the challenges of my internship year. The residency years in Chicago also witnessed me fulfilling my lifetime career goal to become a hematology and oncology physician, so before I could get used to the cold winters it was time for me to embark on another move to Houston for my fellowship.
By Laura A Hanyok, MD
Assistant Dean, Johns Hopkins Graduate Medical Education Office
Imagine being a new intern at Johns Hopkins. You have graduated from an international medical school and are eager to start your career as a physician by pursuing leading-edge graduate medical training in the United States. You are aware of the stresses of residency and are mindful of the need to prioritize your well-being during your years of training. Fortunately, you know that Johns Hopkins has taken a progressive approach to promoting clinician well-being in their training program. Over the next year you see these initiatives in action.
On orientation day, you hear a presentation from the leaders of the Graduate Medical Education (GME) office. They frankly discuss the challenges in residency training, including stressors you might encounter and the increased suicide risk that residents have compared to young adults who are not physicians. This helps to normalize your concerns. They also share information about the resources that the hospital and university provide, and ask you to think about what your support system will be while you are in training. As an international medical graduate, this piece particularly resonates with you, as you realize you may not have the same established support system as other colleagues who have more friends and family nearby.
When I look back at the past couple of years that I’ve spent as an internal medicine resident in the US, the major feeling is an overwhelming sense of gratitude and pride. It is not an easy accomplishment to come to a new land to embark on a 3-year journey (more for others) of learning and growing. What made this journey easier is the friendliness and acceptance of everybody here.
Let me start by giving you a brief summary of my background and upbringing. I grew up in 3 different continents; Europe (UK), Asia (Oman), and Africa (Egypt). I had only visited the US once during that time period; as a 12-year-old for a week-long trip to Disneyworld. I graduated from medical school in Egypt and I knew all along that it was my dream to come to the US to do my residency and learn at the forefront of medical education.
By Tracy Wallowicz Director, ECFMG Exchange Visitor Sponsorship Program and Compliance
WELCOME Welcome to Journeys in Medicine. ECFMG is thrilled to launch this new blog developed to profile the physicians, institutions, and experiences behind our Exchange Visitor Sponsorship Program (EVSP). With each post, Journeys in Medicine will highlight the accomplishments and contributions of a current or former exchange visitor participant and/or feature a host teaching hospital that is taking a unique approach to resident education resulting in an enhanced experience for exchange visitor (EV) physicians.
You may wonder why we are launching the blog and why we are doing so now. The answer to both questions is quite simple. We feel strongly that the contributions of current and former EV physicians to health care around the globe cannot be underestimated and should be shared. While in the United States, these doctors hone their skills and share their medical expertise while engaging in valuable cross cultural experiences and enriching their communities. Upon completion of U.S. training, many make significant impacts on health care in their home countries. We look forward to sharing their stories with you.
Below you find our inaugural blog entry. It marks the first time that I am sharing the very personal story of my unexpected and profound interactions with two exchange visitor (EV) physicians.