Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
- Walt Whitman
the painstaking process
It’s been two years since I’ve treated a patient.
I’m no less a woman in medicine. I spent the time reverting to my med student days after graduating 3 years before and being a surgical resident (experiencing sexism every day and constantly feeling inadequate) and, preparing for my USMLE exams. Now, I can say, 4 exams and thousands of dollars later - I’m officially ready to be part of a residency in the US.
If only it was that easy.
If only life for me was as easy as applying like some of my friends and getting interviews and matching immediately.
Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, I didn’t.
See, as a woman, one in her biological prime of child bearing age, life is not so black and white.
But we do it all. We beat the books, we do the exams, we see the patients. We take calls on our period, pop the Midol, eat the pain and keep going. We wear the lipstick, cover the dark circles, plaster over the blisters from the high heels. We ignore the sexist comments or sometimes address them head on if its offensive enough. We practice way into our third trimester as one of my friends recently did, with the fear of premature labor lingering over her as she rushed to the ER and proceeded to operate at 35 weeks.
ups and downs
Its been a year of reflection, growth, change. A metamorphosis of sorts. Turns out that not matching was the best thing to ever happen to me.
Let me explain: in the time I’ve been in the US, I’ve volunteered as a researcher, reached out to hundreds of programs, doctors, and potential mentors. Maybe as I’m a foreign medical graduate most have been skeptical, they seem to be impressed by my CV but not impressed enough to be a mentor. So I figured it out on my own. I studied and possibly too Step 1 too early, finished the rest of exams, did my best to work on my first ERAS application and prepared for my interviews. I even worked on a poster presentation and won second place. Perhaps, it was not enough.
I even had a major taste of sexism after a potential male mentor offered to guide me with research. He spent an awful lot of time talking about his own accomplishments, asking me to lunch, saying he wanted to write about me and my clinical journey in his many (yet to be named) blogs and asked me for photos. However, he did not assist with the manuscript and soon stopped responding to emails. I was eventually brushed off for meetings, and it was casually mentioned that I can contribute a paragraph to a first-year student’s paper to which I declined. I refused to sign his self-created disclaimer form to work on his book which was not affiliated with the university and distanced myself. What resulted was me with an 11 page literature review which he was not interested in and told someone else that I was too unprofessional (despite the fact that he never responded to emails unless he needed something personally, spent the entire time on the phone and was generally all over the place in a frazzled mess), my work belonged in Cosmopolitan and he didn’t think I would ever match. He was shocked to know that no one else shared his sentiment, that I won the award the previous month and that I was recommended for an interview at that same institution. That was an eye-opening time for me, having never had that level of chauvinism thrown at me before.
I ask myself, what was he expecting? A young bright-eyed doctor to stroke his ego? Not this one.
But, this is just an example of the many rejections I received. A woman, with years of clinical experience, now on the same playing field as other residency candidates having to beg for guidance. Sometimes to older men who treat me as someone not worth their time, who they would rather be left alone.
Some by women themselves, who claim to be women in medicine advocates and mentors on social media but never respond to messages or emails.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some good experiences with some very wonderful individuals. Because of my bad experiences, I cherish these. I had a wonderful experience at one of my observerships, the attendings so impressed wanted me to apply. But it was a DO program. I’ve had someone reach out to me and look at my application and restore my faith in myself when I had lost all after finding out I did not match. I have had someone look over my entire CV and personal statement recently and give me more feedback than I bargained for. Co-incidentally or not, most male. No ulterior motives, just good intentions.
Still, at the end of the day, I know ultimately, it is up to me to create my destiny. And I have no trouble doing this.
After a year of attitude from residency coordinators, outright rejections for requests for observer ships and countless unanswered emails I have developed quite the thick skin. Despite both good and bad experiences, I no longer expect to be helped. I no longer keep my hopes high for responses. I no longer feel the sting from rejections.
This is because now, my life does not revolve around acquiring a residency. Although it is still a top priority, I was blessed with a reality which life felt was more important. Call it fate, call it life, call it good planning or just my wildest dream come true. I found out that I would be expecting a son with my husband at the end of the year.
I think of the women who have to think about putting off a dream of having children until after residency due to lack of maternal leave or the risk of graduating after their peers, having no facilities for daycare or pumping. I think of the women being paid less. The ones working extra shifts, studying longer, just to be noticed as an equal in the workplace despite going home and taking care of the family. I reject this notion.
I realize that these past two years have taught me to be less fragile. Less expectant. To be invincible. To be resilient. To demand what I want. To not be brushed aside.
I’ve traveled, done my Step 3 exam at 19 weeks pregnant, 2 days in a row. And passed it. Without being in a residency or ever having attended a US med school. For those unfamiliar with the Step 3 exam, it consists of 2 days of examining 8 hrs long and 9 hours long respectively. Passing it while needing to pee and eat every 2 hours is one of my greatest accomplishments. Also, I considered the tiny baby kicks to be kicks of encouragement.
I decided that I will have it all, the family and the career. But it will be on my own terms. No more, will I try to act interested in what a narcissist has to say about themselves and their work in the hopes of getting a good recommendation. No more will I lie and say I have no intentions of extending my family. No longer, will I put the rest of my life on hold.
Being a woman in medicine is hard enough as it is. Being a foreign medical graduate adds another layer of difficulty.
Despite this, the applications will be sent, the interviews will come, the baby will join us, I will start my residency and jump back into my dream career. I will mentor those who experience what I once did. I still see no other way, no other place I would rather be and no other life despite having the world at my feet.
This for me is what it means to be a woman in medicine.
Special shout out and product credit:
To McSassy MD for considering me to share her special side hustle. She’s the true definition of a Woman in Medicine, producing tee shirts and mugs which promote feminism and all women in medicine created by herself and her best friend.
Check out the products on https://teespring.com/stores/womeninmedicine
Follow Sass: https://twitter.com/mcsassymd