As I approached my high school graduation, I was excited to see what the future held for me. My goal was to become a physician, and I was determined to do whatever it would take to achieve that. I faced a long, grueling path to become a physician in the United States, but then I started hearing whispers of an easier way.
By going abroad straight out of high school, I could become a doctor in five years. No perfect GPA needed, no stress of taking the MCAT. Once I finished, all I would have to do is take the U.S. medical licensing examination, catapulting me into the same position as an American medical school graduate. Sold! I gave up my seat at a respected California university to go to Pakistan.
The first thing that hit me when I got off my flight from Los Angeles to Karachi was an intense mix of Arizona heat and Florida humidity wrapped in a pungent musty odor. On the drive from the airport to my dorm, I was greeted by unpaved roads, cars spewing smog, and overcapacity buses with people on the roof hanging off the sides. All I could see was the chaos and recklessness of everything around me. Reality settled in. I started wondering how I was going to survive the next five years.
With all these thoughts flying through my head, I reached my destination, Dow International Medical College, DIMC for short. Dirt roads, old and new buildings, ongoing construction...this was a half-completed oasis. After paying my tuition, I was given a whirlwind tour of lecture halls, a stinky anatomy lab, a physiology lab, and a biochemistry lab. OK, this is decent. The school seemed nice.
I checked into my dorm where I was greeted by a nice middle-aged woman, Seema, who was thrilled to meet me. After showing me around, she listed the rules: no boys, curfew at 8 p.m., no tobacco or alcohol, sign in and out every time you leave the dorm, gate passes are required to get on and off campus. I settled into room 65, my new home.
The next day was orientation. I nervously tiptoed into a full lecture hall with hundreds of students, parents, and faculty members who were all mingling. I quietly grabbed a seat and waited for the lectures to start. It was not until an MS-2 and an MS-3 with American accents shared their experiences of settling in Pakistan that I started feeling a little less alone. At the end of the day, I had a million questions but was too shy to ask. I met up with some of my new classmates and felt relieved to know others were also from the United States and feeling the same way I was. We all felt anxious yet excited to start.
With orientation behind me, I was ready for the first day of classes. A bearded man walked into the lecture hall and immediately began lecturing in a thick accent. I could barely comprehend what he was saying, and the only reason I knew he was talking about cell biology was because of the printed schedule. As I tried to decipher what he said, I began questioning my whole life. What am I doing here? Is this a mistake? Should I quit? Class ran late, and I was looking at my watch, waiting to get the heck out of this lecture hall. Before I knew it, a day filled with histology and anatomy lectures had flown by, and I was on the way back to my dorm for curfew.
That first day marked the start of an incredible five-year journey full of hardships and fun. As uncomfortable as it was, I learned to adapt, evolve, and face challenges head-on. As I reflect back on my experience, it was truly humbling. Even though I may not be where I want to be after a failed attempt at matching into residency, I know I have the tools necessary to persevere and get where I am destined to be. And for that, I owe it all to my DIMC experience where I learned how to hustle and developed grit as an international medical graduate.
Dr. Bakalirecently graduated from medical school and lives in Los Angeles. She is a contributor to the Physician Grind (www.physiciangrind.com), a site for physicians to share the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly in medicine created by Zahir Basrai, MD. Connect with Dr. Basrai on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/numosemed/and follow him on Twitter @nuMosemed.