“Surgery in the USA, huh? Do you know what are you doing with your life?” That was a quote from one of my friends.
Surgery is the most precious thing that happened to me. It was my dream to be a surgeon, but things got complicated when training in the USA came into play. I, like most of my friends during my medical school, thought surgery residency in the USA was an impossible task to accomplish, given the visa, high test scores, and research required to be competitive with US medical graduates. I dreamt of being a surgeon, day and night since childhood. So to me it was like a vision that only I was able to see, the passion only I was able to feel, the road only I had to walk, so that when I eventually make it come true it will become a hope for the people around me.
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 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.