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Translation in Transition: The Story of an IMG

By Dr. Ahmad Mahdi

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.

An apple-picking event organized by KU Wichita Resident Council
A gathering that friends and co-residents put together for my birthday

If you have secured your residency, I extend my congratulations and welcome you to this diverse cohort! Once you land in the United States, I urge you—before you start preparing for your first day of work at an unfamiliar hospital—to take the time to rest, recuperate and recollect yourself. You have overcome the first obstacle on the road to residency, but from this point onward, there is the difficult matter of transitioning to life in a new country. Throughout your training, this journey of transition will challenge and transform you in ways that only your fellow IMGs can understand. You will have to learn to translate not just your language, but your whole self. Take a moment to appreciate your identity and background. IMGs come in all shades of skin color, cultural and religious backgrounds, languages and dialects, hair textures, and personalities. Your goal should not be to liquefy your identity to blend in with what’s around you, but rather to mix and incorporate all parts of yourself to contribute to the harmony of difference in the multicultural patchwork that the United States at its very best is known for. You must embrace your roots while extending your branches wholeheartedly into your new community. This is key to optimizing your clinical experience. Your background and identity will inform and augment your training and education, patient interactions, and relationships with other healthcare professionals. This is the strength IMGs bring; this is the value we add to the American healthcare system.

The 2022 Residents Graduation Ceremony

As you translate yourself, you will change and grow. You will be shaped by the new ideas, cultural experiences, and people you encounter throughout your journey. Your experience in residency in the United States is a crucible that will refine your identity. It is the “osteoclast-osteoblast” of your medical and personal development: a constant “break and make” to refashion a stronger and more developed version of who you are. But this transformation can only take place if you continue to rise and face the challenges before you. Rise every day knowing that you are as connected to the roots of your homeland as you are to the branches you extend out into your temporary home. Rise and walk side-by-side with your peers and superiors, who are all different in their own ways and are working with you toward a common goal. Rise knowing that you are blessed beyond measure to partake in the well-being of your patients, whose backgrounds and stories are as varied as all of us, and whose lives will be enriched because of your presence here. Remember that everyone’s story is important, even if it requires translation—including yours.