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.
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.
When all my friends were graduating university and acquiring their first jobs, I was still midway through medical school, struggling through books and clinical rotations. I would listen to their stories of office friends and “work families” in awe – and wonder, when will I have this?
Fast forward through completing medical school, giving my steps, applying for residency, interview season… All those years erased the aforementioned questions from my mind. I was so focused on exams and landing a residency position in a foreign country, that I completely forgot about my yearning to be a working woman. On Match Day, though, having a job became a reality. In just a few months, I would be working for the first time in my life, in a distant place, in a hospital where I knew no one and no one knew me. Suddenly, residency went from being my dream to my fear.
A beautiful Floridian morning is peeping through my window, when sunlight seems to be at her cheerful best, before it resigns to the daily routine. It makes a glittering appearance every day, warming up the beaches and boats, for the rain and the famous Orlando lightning would be due by noon. The shades of weather shall favor me today, as I reflect on a delightful journey, celebrating a lovely concoction of flavors.
It is interesting how we change shoe sizes. The leap into a second year resident’s shoes has been remarkable. As a PGY-2 in internal medicine at Florida hospital Orlando, I must admit that the second year of residency has been the best of both worlds so far. The worlds I refer to are two amazing phases of learning medicine. The first part is the relentless responsibility to learn at every step, and the second is sharing the knowledge and learning through supervision. It is challenging, yet very enjoyable, to extend my abilities and further the skills learned in the first year, to apply and practice medicine with a new sense of maturity. Expectations are higher, and it is the time for me to be prepared for added responsibility. It is time to make decisions for the team, be the second in command after the attending physician, and guide, supervise and organize with the interns.
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.