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Narrative Medicine

Narrative Medicine

Becoming a Doctor in Pakistan

Bakali, Kashmala MBBS

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000651032.43464.7a
    medical school. medical school

    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 (, 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 at follow him on Twitter @nuMosemed.

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