My story about medicine started during my teenage years when I was interested in reading and knowing more about the structures and functions of the human body. I was curious about finding the reasons why people get sick, and how to keep them healthy or how to resolve their health issues. I prepared for medical school entrance exams during high school and I entered the field of medicine in 1989. The 6 years spent in medical school were very challenging, but rewarding when I got my medical school diploma and the permission to practice medicine in my home country, Bulgaria. I thought that the most difficult part was over but that was not the case. When I started looking for a job, it was like the novel “Catch-22”. Every place that I applied, expected experience and specialty from an employee. No one was willing to accept a freshly trained physician with a lot of knowledge and zero experience. Finally, I got a job in a small tertiary hospital 55 km away from my home. At that point of my life, it was quite an exhausting commute to work. I took the challenge, because I was dedicated to medicine and I met my first teachers who were not only great professionals, but very supportive and kind people. Of course everything would have been perfect, unless the health care system was a mess. There were two consecutive years during which there were no 1st year openings for residencies, meaning that all the new medical graduates were on stand-by for their future careers. A year later, it was possible to apply for residency but there was an exam and a lot of administrative restrictions like location, duration, and everything was quite vague. As a person who follows dreams and wants to bring things to closure, I dedicated myself to a neurology residency, only this time, 180 km away from home. At the same time, I met the man of my life and I got onto the train of creating a family. Although I was in the medical field, there was still no light in the tunnel for me. The health care system got even worse and every day there was no money for salaries, no money for equipment, and no money for medication, which made me look for a better paid job. I got in the pharmaceutical business with all the luxuries that were missing, but I still didn’t feel like I fulfilled my dream to practice medicine. Luckily, the golden opportunity came knocking on my door when I got the USA green card lottery in 2005 and moved to USA together with my family.
So here I am, in Virginia, at the beginning of 2006, with my husband and 2 children(my son was 8, my daughter was 2 and a half), ready to restart my life and start new challenges in order to fulfill my dream of becoming a practicing physician. Well, I knew that I had to take the USMLE, I knew that it was expensive, challenging, and at the same time, I had a new life far from my home, my parents and friends. Since I was new to the USA system, my first step was entering a one year accelerated nursing program that gave me the entrance ticket to the health care system. Although it was not at the level I was supposed to be in, I was so thankful and started slowly climbing the steps up to my goal. Of course, maintaining full-time job, taking care of family and children, and preparation for USMLE were all reminding me of Charles Dickens novel “Hard Times”. My willingness to succeed was so strong that I was falling and rising like a phoenix from ashes in order to fulfill my dream and to get ECFMG certified. The good news also came with some bad news. When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, it showed me that I had to pause for a minute and look around. Thanks to my family, I did overcome the challenging situation, got the best treatment and support, and ended 2012 with completion of USMLE Step 3. I thought that should have been the end of the suffering and the beginning of new, bright future with opportunities along my professional path. Again, I became stuck in a wall, but this time, the wall was quite thick, well built on statements like “high scores, recent graduates, no more than 1,2,3,5 years of medical school, no failures on USMLE, having reliable contacts etc.” While I understood the need for high expectations, there should have been more than one cookie cutter way to get a job, considering different peoples’ skills and knowledge compared to their situation. “U.S. faces 90,000 doctor shortage by 2025, medical school association warns By Lenny Bernstein March 3, 2015”. There is a tremendous shortage of MDs and there are thousands of ECFMG certified physicians who are ready to enter residency or some type of training that will give them opportunity to practice their profession. It is the most logical path after all these duplicate exams, tremendous amount of money, and the physical, emotional, and social trauma experienced along the way of becoming a physician.
At this point, I am using my medical knowledge and clinical experience to educate future health care professionals and I feel satisfied to some extent. But it will be definitely more fulfilling to have the opportunity to implement all the skills and expertise in practicing as a physician.
I believe my story is not the only one, and I highly recommend all the politicians to open their eyes and ears, listen to all the stories, and take an action to resolve this ridiculous and logic lacking fact of depriving ECFMG certified physicians to practice medicine.