Medicine. It is a word that many individuals are passionate about. It is a word that has endured many changes throughout the years of its existence. For the two of us, the word medicine holds a special meaning as it has been shaped and colored by our time as medical students overseas in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean was not the easiest of paths. As any medical student would agree, it included many sleepless nights, total caffeine induced psychosis, and somewhere in between there our growing passion and love for the field of medicine. But beyond these, we faced numerous obstacles, which both hindered our journey and made it that much more appreciated. We are considered international medical graduates — or how the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates lovingly calls us, “IMGs.” We decided to embark on our medical school career in the Caribbean and continued our clinical training in Chicago, IL for our third and fourth years. Now why did we choose the Caribbean as opposed to medical schools in the United States? Simple. These schools offered a rolling admission, and were accepting new students three times per year. Due to our financial situations and the schedule of when we finished our undergraduate degrees, we decided the Caribbean was the best route at that time instead of losing another two years. Leaving our families, friends and everything we knew for medical school was the most difficult decision that we had to make.
How did we do it? How did we last for two years on the islands? The only saying that made the journey easier was: “It’s your time. Lehgo!”
Sri: “Okay, dad, I think we are all set. Mom and sis, I love you, I’ll see you in four months.”
With that, I gave them a teary hug and took off with my dad with three huge suitcases, leaving my mom and sister behind. I was not sure of what to expect. Was I going to be able to stay there for four months away from my family, friends and everything I knew? Luckily, my dad was accompanying me on this initial journey; decreasing the fear of embarking the total unknown, but only slightly. As I stared down at my airplane ticket, I realized that this was it: I was going to medical school. I made it this far. I was going to become a doctor one day.
After finishing my undergraduate degree at Michigan State University, traveling to the Caribbean was scary. Not only was I leaving my family, but I was also leaving Michigan, where I had spent my entire life. A couple weeks prior, in preparation for going to the Island of Saint Eustatius where my school was located, I had Google mapped the area and tried to familiarize myself with it, but it was impossible to predict what the journey would hold. What would island life be like? How were the people going to be? Was I going to be able to stay on an island for four months at a time? It was then I received a warm and friendly Facebook message from a fellow classmate who was starting in the same term as me. After a week of exchanging emails and messages, we realized the list of what we needed to bring to the island was many pages long: raincoats, umbrellas, mom’s food, beach clothes, toilet paper and more.
Traveling to the Caribbean was about a 12-hour journey, which consisted of multiple connecting flights, including one through the beautiful island of St. Maarten. Now up until that point in my life, I had been on only flights that seated more than one hundred passengers. Our next connecting flight took me for surprise. It was a small sixteen seater through Winair Airlines, which flew between the islands. I looked at the plane, absolutely terrified. This little plane was going to carry me, my dad, fourteen other passengers, my three suitcases, not to mention the other passengers’ luggage as well? And it will take me over the ocean, too? At my astonishment over the tiny size of the aircraft, my dad laughed and reassured me that it would be okay. The entire plane ride, I hung onto the seat in front of me for dear life and prayed I would make it out alive. With the winds so strong, and the plane being so small, I thought we would be blown into the ocean, never to be found again. As dramatic as it sounds, I did see my life flash before me. Embarrassingly enough, I was sitting next to one of our pathology professors, who saw how shaken up I was with this short 20 minute plane ride, and pointed out in the distance a breath-taking volcano on a small, peaceful looking island to divert my mind from the plane ride itself. I was instantly in love. My home for the next two years was absolutely perfect.
Dimple: After a phone interview with my school, I waited anxiously for a reply. Two weeks later, I received a huge envelope in the mail, stating I was accepted into medical school! My dream was finally coming true. I was becoming a doctor. After a couple weeks, I had gotten in touch with two girls who were also heading to the island at the same time as me. One was starting medical school along with me and one was starting in the pre-medical program. I instantly became close with them and felt this would be my comfort zone through thick and thin in the upcoming months.
After exchanging a couple emails and messages, we decided our parents should meet as well since we had decided to room together. We met for dinner and talked for hours about what to bring along with us to this unknown adventure we were about to embark on. Our parents also decided to come with us and settle us in. As we neared our journey, I realized this was it. I was going to be away from home for four months at a time. After being so close to home in New Jersey during my undergraduate days at Pennsylvania State University, it was hard for me to acknowledge that I would not be able to come back for my mom’s food just for a weekend. I second-guessed the decision, but finally decided to go through with it because I knew it was the right path for me. Since our three families booked our flights together, it was nine chaotic people with an innumerable amount of luggage, frantically running around the airport making sure everything was going to be as smooth as possible for our transition to island life. We made it to our connecting flight only to find that it was a small sixteen seater through Winair Airlines. Realizing we would take up more than half the plane, my fear of the fact that we would be flying in the middle of the ocean in such a small space immediately vanished. I looked out the window in disbelief at the beauty surrounding us. It was then I saw the island I was going to call home for two years. I was in love.
As our journey begins, we’ll next look back on our initial descent onto our respective islands. Check in again to see how did we survived!
Traveling Medicine is a personal outlook on the experiences of two medical students attending medical school outside the United States. It will showcase different aspects of the journey as international medical school graduates with a little hint of Caribbean flavor!