I had recently finished my residency in the home country and was completely burnt out. I had planned to simply enjoy my job for a while without being too bothered about my future. I was enjoying my first job experience. But destiny had something else for me and I moved to the US.
I visited the US with a plan to take a break and enjoy my vacation. It was a great time, everything was new. The people, the culture, the weather and the lifestyle. Now I was a homemaker (never at heart, but for the time being in reality). Life was cool. The residency experience was pretty exhausting and it was a deliberate break from the routine. A time and space for myself, without any reason. To be able to live and enjoy small things. It was for the very first time when I was living in my present without really bothering about my future.
But alas! It didn’t last long. I realized I was so used to running the race that once I stopped, I started feeling like going backward. I realized that the more you have achieved, the more fear and insecurity of losing your achievements starts creeping in. Soon many doubts and questions started cluttering my mind. Did I make a wrong decision by taking a break? Did I commit a career suicide? How am I gonna be a part of the competitive world again? Did I trust my confidence way too much? Every single night these questions would make me sleepless. Should I go back to my home country and resume my practice? But I’ve been away now for more than a year. What will happen to my family here?
Then one day I decided, that I’ve my previous training and a valid degree. I can go back anytime and after a few months struggle will be again on track. Why hurry? Why not give a try to prepare for USMLE once? Let’s see if I can do it. Let’s See!
That is how the idea of pursuing the residency in the US came up. Believe me, it wasn’t a one-time decision. There was a constant conflict, every single day. And that is a struggle which every candidate goes through while walking this long path. Especially someone with a prior residency experience would understand.
So anyhow, now I successfully conceived the idea of pursuing USMLE in my mind. The goal was clear. Now I needed the resources to equip myself. I looked around, no one was a doctor in my vicinity (My spouse is non-medico and so his circle). All my friends were practicing physicians in India, some were the Assistant professors now, some senior residents. I literally knew no one in the medical field in the US. Now, where do I start……..Google!
I found out some USMLE forums. Everything looked and felt so alien. All sorts of people talking all sort of things. I realized the place where I am standing is full of chaos and irrelevant information. After researching for a few weeks, I finally figured out that all information that is circulating over the internet is not reliable. Actually, it misguided most of the time rather than guiding me. But one valuable piece of information that was prevalent everywhere was the importance of high scores. I was under impression that unless you apply immediately after graduation, you are an old grad, which was essentially wrong. Had I been aware that the cut off for most of the program was 5 years for YOG, I probably would have applied earlier. From the very beginning, I assumed myself to be an old grad and found out that my only ray of hope is going to be high scores. I was pretty clear. I need high scores.
The first book I purchased was FA. I read first few pages and started crying. It was only first few pages where the data from past matches is given. I didn’t understand a word. Then there was anatomy, biochemistry, microbiology. It was almost a decade since I read those subjects. Imagine starting with a pressure to achieve high scores, without any guidance, without any friends, all alone in the room, with a laptop and internet connection I started my journey.
I finished my Kaplan notes once. Read, understood but didn’t retain a word. I got so worried. Probably I was too old to retain new information now! Probably I am depressed and hence I can’t concentrate. Probably this, probably that. The self-doubts would start a vicious cycle. After a while, I understood the pattern and made a determined effort to break it down.
Slowly, very slowly I was able to walk. I found a few online friends who would study with me. I started going to the library just to see people around. In the meantime found an observer-ship. I remember the very first time I held the file of the patient with a foreign name I felt so nervous to speak it out loud. Remember I had a clinical training before, and still, I would feel so hesitant. However, gradually I took off. Clinical practice and ability to counsel well has been my forte. I worked hard to build a reputation for myself and built an excellent connection with my attending. She sparked the hope within me that a beautiful community is waiting for me to join them. I felt confident after a long time.
I started taking my self-assessments one after another, and then there was no looking back. I took step1 and felt immensely relieved. The score matched my expectation and I was very happy with my performance. It gave a strong boost to my confidence. Now I knew I will do it.
Did another observership, made an impression and ensured two excellent letters for me. Prepared for CK, and then CS. Believe me, the first step was the most difficult one. You need tremendous courage to feel prepared to take the test. That is the hardest part. But once you do it, the boat would sail smooth. At least for me, it did. Did two more observerships, and submitted a case report before September.
In the meantime, I decided to get professional help from Sarthi. I realized the exam is all about right information at right time. If you don’t have any reliable source of information, you can lose valuable time in either experimenting yourself or may get misguided by a lot of useless information.
Finally was the time to submit the application. I was extremely careful at every step, whether it was building the network, impressing physicians, writing CV/PS, researching programs or emailing programs. I remember while writing my first few emails my hands used to shake. I would think a hundred times before writing a word. By the end of the season, I was so comfortable in professional communication that it became one of my strengths.
I received a lot of interviews, almost double my expectation. I was very surprised. Now the last fight was left, which was performing well in interviews. While I was practicing with my friends I realized, its so important to put your thoughts in right words, in a limited time frame to give the correct impression. Sarthi people helped with their constructive feedbacks. After practicing multiple times, I developed a very well controlled and effective communication skill. I actually was complemented by few programs on my communication skill. Every interview was better than the previous one. There was a very steep learning curve during the interview season, and one of the best times of this entire journey.
Finally, the match season ended. I was celebrating my birthday on the March 16th when the result came out. Surrounded by my family and friends, I opened the email. I matched at my first choice in internal medicine. I got so emotional. I did it finally!
When I started my journey I was completely lost, alone, scared and preoccupied with uncertainties. This journey helped me gain my confidence back, enriched my life with true and faithful friends and showered my life with the blessing from great mentors. I developed my very own connections. This journey has been very rewarding for me. Now I am absolutely fearless and trust me it feels great. They rightly say anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
If I can do it, so can you!
252/254/pass/2010/Home country residency/1 year USCE/1 case report submitted.
“Heartfelt gratitude to my husband Abadhesh Kumar Jha, for his unconditional love and an incredible patience. To my family, friends and my mentors. It would never have been possible without their love and support.
Here is my observation regarding this entire journey:
1. This exam is unique. People from all walks of life come and participate. Everyone has a unique past, unique journey, and unique goal. Any comparison between two candidates is meaningless. And it is because of this fact there is a scope for immense possibilities. No matter what your weakness is, it is possible to overcome it and still achieve your desired goal.
2. It is a long journey. Emotionally, financially and physically draining. You are bound to feel highs and lows. You will feel burnt out. You will doubt yourself on more than one occasions. It is all normal. And it is okay. As long as you are able to keep your determination alive, you will be good.
3. You will need a healthy support system from family and friends. You can’t walk this path all alone.
4. You will find amazing people on this journey. Kind, generous and sweet people. Please, you also perform your responsibility and be kind to others. The more you are open and willing to help others, the more chances are there to encounter such people. And by the way it’s a tough journey, it’s nice to be comforting sometimes.
5. You don’t have any contacts. No worries. Build your own contacts. Be genuine, work hard and be courteous and professional. Always.
6. Do not hesitate to take professional help for guidance if you don’t have any reliable resource.
7. Try not to compromise on the score. It is the only tool that comes handy everywhere on this journey.
8. For those with prior residency experience, chances are very bright. Be very elaborate on your CV. Be prepared with patient scenarios and examples from your experience. You will be asked. There should a right balance of maturity and trainability in your attitude which should be reflected in your letters, PS and in your interview communication.
9. You have to be confident. There is no other alternative. Find out your weak areas which are holding you back and target that specifically. PD will trust you only if you trust yourself. I can’t emphasize this enough. Study yourself well. Find out your individual strength and weakness and enforce your weak areas (that is how we improve our scores in self-assessments, isn’t it?).
10. Never hesitate to call for help. If there is even a remote possibility, please knock at the door. People will only help you if you give them a chance.
11. Last but not the least. PAY ATTENTION. Wherever you go. Whatever you do. As per my experience, it is the only formula for success.
About the Author:
Article was published in Facebook USMLE group by Dr Aparnaa Tiwari, who pursued USMLE dream after PG. It is her true and personal experience and is published with her consent.
We Medchrome magazine are thankful to Aparnna for the wonderful and inspiring article and we are sure this will inspire many students who are having dubious time making a decision for the Big Dream.