Unlike many of my colleagues in the medical field, I took a very unconventional path through my postgraduate training. Throughout medical school, I was convinced I was destined to be a surgeon. I loved anatomy, loved my surgical rotations, and thought that this was my destiny. Then on my first day as a house officer in general surgery, I stood for 9 hours in a laparoscopic hemicolectomy, without any breaks for eating or going to the bathroom, and suddenly my life choices became much less clear. I struggled a while longer, but eventually I put away my scalpel, took up my neglected stethoscope once again, and I took up a formal internal medicine training post in New Zealand, starting on another journey. Everything started to make sense for a change. The flow of hospital medicine, the critical thinking, the lack of having to stand in an OR for several hours with a full bladder and an empty stomach, it all finally came together. As it turned out, one shake-up was not enough, and as I rotated through stroke and neurology, I found a hidden interest that I wished to take further. Being inspired by some American mentors, I decided to apply for training in the USA, and began residency at the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center, San Antonio Texas in June 2018. After all my continent hopping and specialty changes, at last I seemed to be on the right track.
On March 17, 2020, our institution was designated as the nation’s first dedicated care center for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Our patient population would now be only individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and required hospitalization, either from our emergency department, or from other hospitals within our network. My experience with COVID was, at that point, scarce and limited to discussions with my senior colleagues and the case reports from China and Italy.
Since I started in high school, I have been away from my home to study. At 13 years old, it was hard. Now I realize hard moments prepare you for great achievements along the way. The question is how to pass hard moments: for some of us, it is difficult to see the end prize in the beginning, because the road is multifactorial. However, the purpose of the journey is learning patience and endurance, not the destination itself. All I ever wanted was to do good, affect good, make a positive impact. We all should start walking with purpose, with good intentions. The destination may be different than initially thought, but it might be even better than our dreams.
“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.