Dear fellow international medical graduates (IMGs):
We, like our U.S.-graduate counterparts, are hardworking and highly resilient in our pursuit of residency. We are all excited yet daunted by the prospect of transitioning from medical school to internship, as this new phase brings increased responsibility and autonomy. We all rush to meet deadlines and gather stack upon stack of required paperwork to jump off the page and qualify for selection. However, IMGs often face unique obstacles that we must overcome in preparation for and as we matriculate in our residencies in the United States. For example, as a Lebanese applicant, I was faced with regular electricity outages, civil rights movements interrupting my normal workflow, and severe financial limitations due to the fastest rate of hyperinflation in modern history in my country. I had to embrace instability and uncertainty and always aim to thrive from within the chaos. I am certain that many of my fellow IMGs faced similar challenges in their efforts to begin residency in the United States. Especially in this time of the pandemic, we all dealt with some level of economic and political instability in our homelands, not to mention the multiple waves of quarantine, uncertainty, and fear. If you are going through this process now, I send you a message of strength: you will persevere.
Six months into my medical residency, I have grown more comfortable waking up earlier than usual and at colder temperatures. I have learned to embrace procedure and operate on a regularly irregular schedule. Today on my way to work, I watch the fog clear and feel my pulse synchronize with my pace.
From my early days in medical school, I knew that I wanted to become a psychiatrist. My decision was met with mixed opinions from my family and colleagues, as stigma towards this specialty persists. But I’ve always longed to pursue a career in psychiatry and hoped to contribute to fighting the stigma and spreading awareness of mental health and illness. The exceptional approach psychiatry takes in exploring human behavior and the motivations that drive it is fascinating and deeply rewarding. It also provides a unique privilege to not only be part of the patient’s story, but also have a role in achieving a positive shift in their narrative.
It was 2:00 AM at Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport, moments before a long trip to the United States. I was drinking coffee and trying desperately to distract myself. At the time, I was 30 years old, recently engaged, and a fresh graduate in pulmonary and critical care. I was on my way to begin a U.S. graduate medical education program on a J-1 visa for subspecialty training in neurocritical care.
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.