It takes baby steps; do not be in haste to accomplish your goal. And when it seems your goal is unattainable, never give up.
This motto is what I lived by during my journey as an immigrant from Nigeria on my way to becoming a family medicine faculty member.
My baby step to success began back in 1997 while getting ready for college in Nigeria. I was enrolled in a predegree course in basic science with the intention of getting into college to study agricultural economics. However, as fate would have it, I completed my predegree course with excellent grades and I qualified to enroll in medical science.
In my first year, I quickly realized that it takes a devoted mind and a committed heart to be successful in the field of medicine. And on top of the rigors of medical school, I endured years of studying in the dark due to inadequate electricity supply and frequent school closure due to rioting and lecturer strikes. However, despite all the hardship, I was focused on one goal: becoming a medical doctor. In 2006, I graduated from medical school and shortly after I relocated to the United States.
One might wonder “why relocate to the United States after completing medical school?” Right after medical school, I applied to various medical institutions in Nigeria for a medical internship position. After multiple attempts to get into one of these institutions failed, I decided to relocate to the United States to further my medical education. Many questions crossed my mind: What if I do not pass the required licensing exam to further my medical career in the United States? What if I cannot afford to pay for the licensing exams? What if… What if… Some international medical graduates say that it is challenging to get into a residency program; others recommended going for a nursing program instead, to make ends meet while trying to get into a medical residency program. Despite my fear, I summoned courage and began the process of getting into a US residency program.
Although I was eager to start work as a professional, since I have a medical degree from my home country, I took a baby step by starting with low-paying jobs to save up for my licensing exams. I remember my first job as a nanny was not palatable; although I love children, the job was so demanding that I quit the very next day. Later, I accepted a position at Rite Aid pharmacy as a cashier. I gained a lot of experience, especially with communication and building interpersonal relationship with coworkers and customers. Finally, I took another job at Children Health Care of Atlanta as a blood product transporter.
With family support and hard work, I was able to save up for my exams. Within a year and a half, I completed all the professional exams required to apply for medical residency training. As an international medical graduate, the struggle of getting into a US medical residency program is real, bearing in mind that there are a lot of competitive and intelligent US medical graduates who also aspire to get into the same program you wish to get into. Despite my fear, I was determined never to abandon my dream of becoming a practicing US physician. I matched into a family medicine residency program in 2009.
As a resident, I have always been interested in teaching; I wanted to become a teacher of family medicine and a physician leader. Our residency program director is the daughter of a Hispanic immigrant and an international medical graduate who often tells stories of her humble beginning to residents. Now, not only is she a physician leader but she also holds a law degree. Learning from her success story was inspiring to me and further encouraged me to pursue my dream.
Straight out of residency training, I applied to faculty positions. However, due to lack of experience, that opportunity passed me by. I was disappointed but never discouraged.
In 2012, I became a community physician at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital working in an outpatient setting with no teaching exposure. I made various attempts to have residents and medical student rotate with me in my clinic, but this request was denied due to logistic reasons. Eventually, I decided to take another baby step by volunteering my time as a preceptor in a Delivering Equal Access to Care clinic for indigents run by Wake Forest medical and physician assistant students. I did this for a few months and then applied to the Cone Health Family Medicine Residency Program for a faculty position. With the volunteer precepting and other clinical experiences, I was able to get the faculty position.
Being an international medical graduate, initially, it was difficult to adjust to my role as a faculty quickly. However, the residency program leadership saw virtue in me and were willing to invest in me. In 2016, I completed a faculty development fellowship at the University of North Carolina sponsored by the residency program; this program was instrumental in helping me develop my teaching and leadership skills. Although an international medical graduate, I have been involved in different leadership roles at Cone Health Family Medicine Program in the past few years. Also, I was introduced to the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM) and I have taken different leadership roles in the organization.
Despite all, I will continue to take baby steps to attain the goal of becoming the physician leader I hope to become. Speaking with immigrant physicians going to medical school in their native country and training in the United States, my story seems common. Looking at the whole journey seems like a giant mountain to climb, but taking it one step at a time without giving up leads to success.