By Emmy Abraham
Since graduating from a Caribbean medical school in 2015, the wait for residency entrance has been a lesson in enduring perseverance interspersed with rewarding, unique experiences. It has been an eye-opening path with many unyielding doors that would have been difficult to open had it not been for my strong support systems such as my mentor group and my faith.
I vividly recall multiple attempts to enhance my clinical or research experience including looking for medical internship opportunities locally and, as last resort, in the Middle Eastern countries. Oh, how devastated I was to realize it was a dead-end trying for an internship as a non-resident of the Middle East.
Even searching for clinical research opportunities was cumbersome. Vigilantly going through various career sites and expectantly applying – only to then wait and receive no response or to be told I am over qualified. I was even told I am disqualified simply because I am awaiting residency entrance. To add another dimension, my full-time income had to manage my family expenses while I actively pursued these clinical enhancement opportunities, dealt with the medical school debt agency, arranged student loan payments, and single-handedly mothered my two young boys. Amidst these regularities, one must never forget the yearly mental work-out regarding ways to attain the best letters of recommendation. At the same time, the yet unknown Match outcome was a focus of deep analysis daily and a difficult mental process given there were no naturally known solutions at the end.
Year after year, the Match Day has been a teary and a heart-breaking day for myself and my family, a family who has been a strong foundational pillar. All brimming up to the throat with battling, questioning thoughts asking, “What is the reason it did not work out this time?” “What different course of actions could I have taken?” and “How long is this going to take?”. After all, all that is needed is a single Match to a single program! Often, I sat thinking, “Why, oh why, why no Match this year?”
Though I eventually would surface out of the despair, the terrorizing grip of the feelings of helplessness was traumatizing and a vicious circle; potentially much like the stories of the three unmatched medical graduates who ended in suicide due to being unmatched. However, my faith, centered on a relationship with the Almighty God, brought me up out of pits of despair. I know my God can change impossible situations. So, my helplessness did not progress into a mental health crisis. My faith gave me the privilege of de-stressing through worship music that uplifts the soul much like an eagle soaring high in the sky.
Creating worship lyrics and tuning the words was a fond hobby of mine. During one moment of deep anguish about the Match, I wrote a particular, divinely-inspired song. Singing and meditating on the words of that song has repeatedly bolstered resilience, enabled re-orienting of focus, and set me up to progress into a better version of myself. I fondly recall, singing it daily before going to bed at night. Sometimes, I even made my kids sing it with me before their bedtime. My faith got energized when I repeatedly heard those meaningful words. These words fanned my hope and propelled me through the next day of seeking new opportunities. It cleared my mind of the negativity and enabled a flow of creativity as I tried to answer the flood of questions – What can I further do to enhance my credentials to stand out among the applicants? Are there available academic mentors that may assist during the process? Is there a support system that I could lean back on?
Reflecting back, I would have stayed drowned in the surrounding negativity of the situation had it not been for my faith in God and the resultant coping through the use of worship music. Even now, despite the years of waiting, I live with the strong hope that surely an end to this is very near. Furthermore, while recalling the suicide news previously mentioned, a God-inspired deep concern resonated for others traveling on the same road as me. I realized that a journey together would be much safer and rewarding. A search commenced, with which I ended up among a well-knit peer group under the direction of a faculty mentor who opened opportunities for research, manuscript writing and review of scholarly abstracts.
I am utterly indebted to our peer group for advancing awareness of available residency resources through our research collaboration. Empowered by the unseen intellectual support from these researched sources and the knowing that you are not alone in this journey have tremendously strengthened my resolve. It created a safe space to bounce ideas, seek answers without criticism, and educate self through scientific activities. It provided a basis to foster mentoring, be it guidance regarding United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 3 resources or sharing past research experiences. The developed camaraderie surely will remain for a lifetime since the strongest bonds are formed during the direst of moments. Surely the need for connections is vital. When we take the focus off of ourselves and deviate to help others, something happens to our mind and body to enable positive wiring, diffuse self-negativity, and uncage ourselves to utilize the full potential in ourselves.
Truly, faith and peer support has added to my overall well-being during this journey. Therefore, I would recommend to all fellow residency re-applicants out there to please know there are accessible support systems available within your reach to de-stressing before a crisis arises. It is never too late to seek out a faculty mentor and a strong peer (virtual) support group with whom you can grow and succeed.
Emmy Abraham, MD, is a medical graduate of International American University – College of Medicine and eagerly looking forward to the 2022 Residency Match outcome. She is passionate about serving under-served communities and has a strong interest in clinical & medical education research. She also enjoys time with her family, listening to contemporary music, learning piano and gardening.
I am sincerely thankful to Dr. Juan Narvaez, Dr. Jessica Obi and my mentor Dr. Monica Van de Ridder for reviewing prior versions of this reflective writing.