Below is a guest post from Ashleigh of IslandMedStudentBlog.com. I’m always happy to post stories or experiences from med students, residents, or physicians who can add a new or unique prospective to #LifeofaMedStudent. Ashleigh is a 2nd year medical student studying in the Caribbean and here is her story:
I am not your traditional medical student.
I have always wanted to be a doctor. For as long as I can imagine! I remember, as a child, watching my father get ready for work with his white coat and stethoscope. I always knew I wanted to be like him. Growing up, I was extremely interested in medicine and science. At age 3, I knew all the bones in my body! I was so passionate about this career and I knew I was willing to do whatever it took in my life to get what I wanted.
Fast-forward to my undergraduate career. I started out on the ‘right route’ – biology/pre-medicine studies. I remember reading over the curriculum and seeing all the biology classes – cell biology, plant biology… Honestly, I was not excited. Where was the anatomy?I wanted MEDICINE. But I knew it’s what I needed to do to achieve my goals and get me into medical school. Long story short, I ended up leaving that university after the first year, due to a multitude of issues. I was not happy there and I did not have the support I needed to succeed in my classes. I ended up transferring to a technical college to finish up my general education, and then went on to a public university. I, however, could not to go back to biology. I personally did not like it and I could not get passionate about obtaining the degree. After a lot of thinking and deliberating, I decided on a major in Spanish and International Health. These allowed me to explore another area of interest of mine – public health. It gave me the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica and participate in an internship at a medical clinic, observing general physicians and many other medical providers. During this time, I became bilingual which was very important to me considering my future of wanting to be a physician. The experiences I discovered within my major further drove my passion to become a doctor, even if it wasn’t necessarily ‘traditional.’
Studying in Costa Rica also inspired me to travel before I settled down into a formal career. I considered medical schools in Costa Rica and many other areas around the world. After graduation, a semester off, and much contemplation, research, and decision-making, I decided on a school on the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I know what you’re thinking. Being an international medical student is going to limit my opportunities… Being an international student won’t get me residency. I have done extensive research on this and I’d like to highlight the pros and cons I’ve experienced in my first two years of studying medicine abroad.
PROS: For me, there is a huge financial advantage. I am still given an opportunity to sit for the USMLE step exams, and my clinical rotations are already set up for me in a US hospital through my school. I only study the basic sciences portion abroad, and complete clinicals and exams in the US. I get to live and learn in a beautiful country and still have free time to explore and travel while I can. I am able to shadow local physicians and see a whole different side of medicine in than I would in a traditional path. I have seen different types of diseases and health issues that I wouldn’t likely have seen in US hospitals. Then, when finished with the first two basic science years, I still get the traditional training experience in clinicals.
CONS: Living life abroad is not easy. There are emotional hardships that come with studying something so intense and being thousands of miles away from the people who mean so much to you. My school is constantly changing and incorporating new ideas/processes that will benefit us for the USMLE and clinical rotations in the US. Nothing is perfect, so I must be open minded and flexible for change. The school gives me the opportunity to do what I need to succeed and become a medical doctor. It is not easy, and I know in many ways I have to work harder than many traditional students to get what I want. But isn’t that what medicine is all about? There ARE many people who have graduated from this program and gotten great residencies in almost all fields of medicine in the US. I know it’s possible and that is my passion!
Before making any assumptions, I encourage everyone to do their research. Yes, not all schools abroad are up to par with US standards and it can make it difficult for you to later train and practice in the US. That is why it’s imperative you fully commit to researching every aspect of something before you dive in. Several people I know personally have graduated from international programs and are successfully practicing medicine today. It IS possible, with the right program and the right motivation to work hard. Although I am not ‘traditional’, I refuse to give up, and I will fight until the end to get what I want! The end goal is to be a physician – 20 years from now, no one is going to care how you got there. It’s okay to be untraditional!
If you’d like to hear more about my experiences abroad, check out my personal blog at www.islandmedstudentblog.com
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