Thursday, March 15, 2018

When Failure Becomes Opportunity – My #Match2018 Story

***Disclaimer: This post starts off pretty bad, but there’s a happy ending!***

On February 5, 2018 at 7:54am, my worst nightmare happened. I found out I did not match. I was in the process of driving to my rotation when I received the above email. I immediately turned my car around, texted my attending the news, and headed back home. I was beyond devastated, and just wanted to crawl into a deep dark corner and remove myself from the world. I think for about the first 30 minutes, I just sat on the couch in silence and in shock. Then I called my school to figure out the best way to proceed. They let me know that the list of unfilled programs would be available in a few hours and to start making calls at that time. The next thing I did was call a good friend of mine.

The friend I called was someone who despite now being a surgical resident, did not match the first time either, so I knew he would have good advice for me. His advice was “take about an hour to cry and be in your feelings, then suck it up, take the depression out of your voice, and get your ass on the phone!” So that’s what I did. I hung up, cried a few tears (an extremely rare occurrence for me), and when the list became available, I was calling and emailing programs. There were only two categorical surgery programs available, and a ton of internships, internal medicine, family medicine, and other categorical spots available. My heart just wouldn’t let me apply to anything that wouldn’t get me to my end goal of becoming a surgeon, so I only applied for surgery and internship positions. 

Feels so weird seeing those initials after my name

The calls turned out to be successful because by the end of the day, I had completed a few phone interviews and was offered multiple different contracts at programs around the country. The only problem was some of the programs wanted me to sign their contracts right away (I’m talking within an hour of receiving), and others wanted me to consider taking a spot in their other unfilled categorical programs such as internal medicine. This completely stressed me out! The only program that actually took the time to consider what I wanted was the one at my home institution. They not only offered a general surgery based traditional rotating internship, but they said that they would hold onto the contract and give me a few days to think about it. So, to make a long story short, I happily accepted the contract for a Traditional Rotating Internship (General Surgery Specialty Track) at PCOM, and will be starting my first Resident Physician job in Philadelphia this summer.

I do it all for her :)

For those who are unaware, there are actually two matches that take place. The AOA (DO) match typically occurs the first week of February, and the NRMP (MD) match occurs around the second or third week of March. DOs can participate in both matches, but if a student matches in the DO match, then they cannot match in the following match. MD students only have the option of one match. I was registered for both matches and had ranked programs for both, but after receiving the AOA email, it forced me to think about what would happen if the same thing occurred in March. The NRMP match includes MD, DO, and IMG students, so the pool is a lot larger and it’s easier to end up not securing a spot anywhere. As a single mother, and someone with a ton of student loans, I could not afford to take a year off after graduating from medical school. It was crucial for me to secure a position and the salary that comes along with it. I held onto the contract until the last week before it was due, but after having an unsuccessful interview with one of the programs with an open categorical general surgery position (they were more concerned with the fact that I have a child rather than my abilities as a future resident), I mailed in my contract and now there is no looking back. I don’t have to worry about how I am going to feed my child next year, and she’s just happy that her mom is going to be a doctor :) 

I originally struggled with the idea of writing a post about my match day woes because I didn’t want the extra attention. I haven’t exactly been a low key medical student, so it felt extra shameful to be someone who recently received the highest award given by my school, has multiple newspaper articles written about me, and serves as national president of an organization, but apparently wasn’t good enough to match into a general surgery program. When I told my friend about this and wanting to just stay quiet and pretend like it never happened, he said something that I found to be so profound: “Your failure is not for you.” He then went on to explain that if he hadn’t previously shared his story with me, then I wouldn’t think I could go on to accomplish my dreams as well. He was completely right. So I wrote this post with the intention to not only share my story with those who might have similar circumstances, but also to give me something to look back on when I do finally become a surgeon. I might have added an extra year to my training, but I see this as an opportunity as opposed to a failure. I will accomplish my goals of becoming a surgeon, and I look forward to taking this year to kick butt as an intern whiling proving that I would be a valuable asset to any surgery program. I just hope you all will stick around for the ride.

For those who matched this week and last month, congratulations, but please remember that it didn’t come as easy for some folks as it did for you, and that there are others still out there struggling to scramble into a spot. For those currently in the SOAP/scramble process, please keep your head up and know that you are not alone. Utilize your school, mentors, and resources to secure a spot. You will get through this and end up where you are meant to be. And for those like myself, who did not match into their desired spots, but managed to secure a position, rejoice in the fact that you are blessed have a job! Finally, to all my fellow fourth year medical students, we’re almost to the finish line! Graduation is literally right around the corner!!!! Congratulations on making it this far in your careers, and I look forward to having you as my future colleagues.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

My 4 Year Blogiversary!

Happy Sunday and greetings from CancĂșn!!!! As I currently sit on the beach and relax during my first break in a long time, I realize that today marks four years since I wrote my very first post and started this blog. At that time, I had been newly accepted into medical school and had no idea what would be in store for me. Now, 4 years later, I am in my final year of medical school and I still have no idea what's in store for me in terms residency and the next step in my journey. Nevertheless, I feel absolutely blessed to still be on the path towards becoming a physician, and for all of you amazing readers who continue to stick with me and follow my journey.

I know I don't say it enough, but THANK YOU for reading my blog!!!! There have been many times over the past few years where I have become burnt out and/or started to question my path, but then I get a comment or an email from a reader that inspires and encourages me to stay on track. A lot of people reach out to me and tell me that I inspire them, but the odd thing is that you all inspire me even more! I love hearing your stories of medical school acceptances or how reading one of my posts inspired you to continue on and not give up. That is the reason why I started this blog and why I continue to write even when it gets harder and harder to find the time to sit down and do so. This blog serves as a reminder of my struggles, successes, and the fact that nothing is impossible with a little persistance and dedication. I hope everyone reading this knows that they are capable of achieving their dreams as well, and I thank you for allowing me to share my story.

I won't ramble on and on. I am currently taking the time for a little self care and what better place to relax than in CancĂșn?!?! Although these past few months have been spent with constant travel for auditions, interviews, or the SNMA, I wanted to take the time and do something that was just for me. No stress, no having to be "on", and no wondering if I am making a good impression. Just white sand, clear water, lots of drinks, and a few good books :) I hope everyone reading this is also taking the time for a little #SelfCareSunday and I look forward to sharing more of my journey during the next year and beyond!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

When Dreams Start to Become a Reality

Surgery with Dr. Velma Scantlebury, the first balck female transplant surgeon in the US

In my previous post, I promised I would do a quick recap of my experiences in Delaware last month. This was an exciting month not only because I was finishing up the last of my general surgery audition/away rotations, but because I was blessed with the opportunity to meet some amazing individuals while having awe-inspiring experiences. If you follow me on my Instagram or other social media accounts, then you already know my most memorable experience was being able to assist Dr. Velma Scantlebury, the first black female transplant surgeon in the United States, with surgery! I’ve had so many great moments during my time as a medical student, but this has probably been my favorite thus far. It was definitely something that I will never forget, and it really gave meaning to all the long nights spent studying, the constant sacrifices, and the many times I began to doubt if I was even on the right path. It was just what I needed to further drive my passion to become a surgeon, and I will forever be grateful that I even had the chance to experience this.

Blessed to called her both a friend and mentor

Speaking of great individuals, it’s one thing to have role models in life who you aspire to be like, but to actually meet them and have them be even more fantastic in person is simply amazing! Not only did Dr. Scantlebury open her home to me for the entire month I was in Delaware, but she always made herself available to answer my millions of questions and she gave the best advice. It was so cool being able to hang out with her and I am so blessed to have her in my life as both a phenomenal friend and mentor. I also got the chance to finally meet some of my other mentors while I was in Delaware, and it was so nice to have a support system while I was busy making it through the surgery grind. The hours were rough (especially during the first two weeks I spent in the SICU), and it was stressful at times, but receiving texts and visits throughout the day from some of my mentors made me feel super loved :-)

Some the the University of Delaware SNMA MAPS members

Another highlight of my month in Delaware was getting to interact with some of my SNMA family. I had the pleasure of attending a diversity event where I met some awesome pre-medical students from the University of Delaware who also happen to be the Student National Medical Association’s Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS) chapter members. It was a pleasure being able to get their insights and discuss medical school and the admissions process with them. A huge portion of my agenda this year as SNMA National President focuses on inspiring our youth and encouraging students to pursue medical school, so it is good knowing that my efforts are not going unnoticed. Speaking of which, the next SNMA National Leadership Institute will be held in New Orleans, LA January 26-28, 2018, so if you’re a pre-medical student interested in workshops designed to provide you with the knowledge to successfully get into medical school, or a medical student interested in building your leadership skills, click HERE to apply today! I look forward to meeting you and seeing some old faces.
I think this pretty much covers everything I wanted to say about last month. I still have to pinch myself sometimes when I think back on how much of a struggle it was to just get into medical school to now where I am getting opportunities to perform surgeries with legends. It is a true reminder of how far I have come, and it reminds me to not forget to bring people up with me along the way. I will continue to share these moments with you all because I want everyone to know that no dream is impossible, and that everything works out and happens at the right time. Just keep pushing, stay determined, and don’t let anyone tell you that you aren't capable of achieving your goals. Anyway, I’m beginning to rant, so I’ll end here. I hope everyone reading this has a great week!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Getting Closer to the Finish Line

All smiles at pursuing my dreams :-)

I’m Baaaaaccckkkk!!!! There are no words to express how busy, stressful, and hectic the past few months have been, but I continue to enjoy every moment and chance I spend continuing to strive for my dreams. I’ve prayed for a long time just to have a chance at the opportunity to start the path towards medicine, and now that I’m here I’m going to embrace every second of it. In a little over five months, I will be Dr. Ward, and that alone is a reason to smile.

A pic that sums up the last several months of my life perfectly

I’m not going to lie and say it has been all rainbows and sunshine over the past few months, because at times it has been far from it. I recently completed the last of my general surgery audition/away rotations, and while it was an amazing experience traveling to different states and experiencing different residency programs, I am so happy to be finished. Having to be on 24/7 while people constantly judge your skills, knowledge, and actions is beyond stressful. Plus, being around other exceptional students who are always on top of their game is enough to foster feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. If I learned only one thing the past few months, it is that I don’t know much of anything. Nevertheless, I have utilized these experiences as learning opportunities, and I feel I have grown tremendously in both my skill set and knowledge base. Plus, I am not afraid to put in the work and do whatever I need to do to make sure I learn everything I need to care for my patients.

Missing my little love

Another thing that no one tells you about fourth year is that it can get pretty lonely. I have spent the past few months in some places where I knew absolutely no one. Not really a problem since 90% of my time was spent in the hospital, but I definitely enjoyed the times when I was able to run into classmates and hang out for a little bit. Plus, I had to be away from my daughter only seeing her in person maybe three times since July, and this was soooo weird for me! I went from seeing her every day and only being apart for maybe a month each year during the summer when she went to spend time with my parents, to only being able to interact with her through video chat. I think it was more of an adjustment for me than her, since she is used to me being busy anyway, but it was definitely bittersweet to see how happy she was that I wasn’t around. Bitter because she really didn’t miss me that much, but sweet because she was constantly surrounded by people who spoiled and made her feel loved. It’s a blessing to have a child who is not only supportive of my dreams, but who doesn’t get upset in my absence and continues to be happy and do well. I literally have no reason to complain, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t experience mommy guilt from time to time. I will say that the major highlight of the past few months was taking a weekend off to fly and surprise my daughter for her birthday last month. It was such a feel good moment, and I was happy to have my sister there to capture it on video which you can see below:

Now that I am finished with audition rotations, the only things left to do are have a successful interview season, match into a great residency program (prayers requested!), finish out rotations, and graduate! The coming months will be both exciting and somewhat scary, but I look forward to the ride :-)

Since I didn’t have time to detail my experiences in Delaware, my next post will be a recap of my month there since I was blessed with some pretty phenomenal experiences that deserve a separate post. I have a bit more free time now, so I will make sure to type it up in the coming days. Until then, I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful week!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Greetings From Ohio!

General Surgery Essentials

It has been entirely too long since my last post, so time for another update! After my general surgery audition rotation in Philadelphia, I landed right back in Georgia for a required 4 week rural family medicine rotation. I had a lot of autonomy, nice hours, an awesome preceptor, and plenty of relaxation time, so I was really happy. Plus, I really enjoyed my time back home, and I was able to spend time with my daughter who I hadn't seen in two months. We both enjoyed much needed mommy/daughter bonding time, and it made me really happy that she is still doing okay despite me being away so much for 4th year auditions.

Selfie with the Georgia Family Medicine crew

After a pretty chill month, it was time to get back into the operating room, so I hit the road to Ohio where I am at now for general surgery audition #3. Today marks the start of week three, and so far I am enjoying my experience. As with any surgery program, the hours are long, but here, there are a huge variety of surgical cases every day, the residents and attending physicians are all super nice, and I enjoy working alongside the other auditioning medical students. Plus, over the past few months I have become super comfortable with suturing, hand tying, and patient management, so everything is a lot less overwhelming now.

Snagging in a little extra study time in between surgery cases

In addition to being on the surgery grind, I also had to fly to Philadelphia last weekend for the Student National Medical Association's (SNMA) National Leadership Institute hosted by the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. As National President of the SNMA, I was responsible for securing the location, finding speakers, putting together all programming, and making sure the weekend ran smoothly. To say I was stressed would be an understatement! Thankfully, I had the help of amazing individuals who helped me with everything from planning these past few months to handling minor things during the event so I could tend to meetings and such last weekend. Team work truly does make the dream work, and I continue to be reminded every day that I wouldn't be able to accomplish anything without the support and help from the fantastic people who surround me. I am super blessed, indeed!

Thank you to everyone who attended the SNMA September 2017 NLI!

Lastly, in terms of general 4th year updates, I have submitted all my residency applications, and now I'm just praying for a decent number of interviews. This waiting game is sooo stressful! The good news is I have one more general surgery rotation after this one, and then I'll be able to head back to Georgia and breathe again.

I think that covers everything for now. The next time you hear from me, I should be in Delaware finishing up the last rotation of my fourth year general surgery grind. I hope everyone reading this is doing well, and I look forward to updating everyone again soon!

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