As my husband stood on the stage to celebrate his completion of the Cardiology Echocardiography fellowship program, it would be hard to imagine where he was a decade ago. When I first met him, he was barely making ends meet, studying tirelessly at night for various exams and working 2-3 jobs simultaneously during the day at pizza places, local pubs and data entry jobs.
My husband didn’t appear to have all the right ingredients to be a successful physician – he spoke broken English, had no track record of any research accomplishment, nor did he have much work experience in the health care system. But he was a licensed physician from Kurdistan. He came to Canada as a refugee and was looking for a new life and a new start. While he was happy to make it to Canada, he was also sad to realize how difficult it would be for a foreign trained physician to practice medicine again.
It was not impossible just extremely difficult. The Canadian Residency Matching Service is where graduates of medical schools in Canada would apply for postgraduate residency programs. There is a fixed number of positions available in different disciplines across Canada. Due to the physician shortage, additional residency positions dedicated for foreign trained physicians had just opened up. So technically, he had a shot. But with over 2000 applications competing for just over 200 spots, his chance was slim.
In the meantime, he was offered a decent paid position at a pharmaceutical company. We sat there pondering what it would mean. He could take the job and give up pursuing to be a physician, or he could pursue this other journey to become a physician, which would be both unpredictable and challenging, It didn’t take long to realize which was the right path. It was like crushing his soul if he were to give up being a physician.
So we chose to pursue the journey to become a physician. We had to try despite the challenge, despite the slim possibility, despite the uncertainty ahead. We had to give it ALL in to try. He would study hard for his exams, we would look at his applications together. We worked tirelessly going over every component of his applications to ensure we have perfected all parts to the finest. We knocked on as many doors as possible for observership opportunities – many would reject and refuse but we would also come across some good-hearted physicians who allowed him to observe the practice and to write a reference letter afterward. Reference letters written by Canadian physicians were like gold to boost his success in the application process.
Throughout this journey, he met many great people too. When he was faced with the possibility of deportation, his coworkers came together to write him many letters of support for him to stay in Canada on compassionate ground. When he was studying for his exams, he would meet many supportive friends who would cheer him, encourage him and would share valuable tips and wisdom throughout his journey.
The first sign of success was an invitation for an interview for the residency position in family medicine at McMaster University. With so many applicants competing for those few positions, many would not make it to the interview stage. So when he was invited for the interview, we knew we were able to weed out many competitors. When it came time for interviews, we would sit together going over all the possible interview questions to ensure he knew how to respond, how to articulate the exact messages and to convey the right perception of himself. He had to give his very best.
After he wrote his exams, went for the interviews and finally waiting for the moment of his match results, he was terrified. By then, he had spent thousands of dollars on exams and courses, not to mention the countless hours of preparation for his applications. He was very close to knowing what his future would behold. If he didn’t get accepted for a residency position – that being his third attempt, it would hit him very hard. We were both nervous but we only could wait patiently for the results.
Shortly after 12 noon on the day when the results were released, he called me. He could not utter any word; he was consumed with intense emotions of joy, relief and excitement. He did it! He got accepted to a residency position in family medicine at McMaster University.
But it didn’t stop him from pursuing his true passion. He told me his passion was actually in cardiology. Again, I came back to the same sentiment. It was not impossible but extremely difficult. Many potential applicants spend their lifetimes preparing for a career in cardiology with lots of extracurricular involvement, community service, connections with key clinicians and researchers and lots of publications to create an impressive profile. He was really lacking in all of these areas.
Again I knew he would regret for not trying. So we began looking for opportunities to transfer to a residency program in internal medicine – a program where he must apply before he could pursue the subspecialty in cardiology. We looked at all the programs available in Ontario and in Canada. We wrote letters to all the program directors, indicating his interest in internal medicine. Again many would not return his email, some would kindly reply to indicate there was no position available. But we got one email from the program director, Dr Smith at Queen’s University in Kingston. He invited my husband for an interview. So we drove all the way from Burlington to Kingston.
I could not tell you what happened in the interview but I knew it was a lot of blind faith. Luckily, my husband must have done well at the interview and was accepted into the program. We moved from Burlington to Kingston. The rest of his journey was predictable. He had to prove himself, showed that he could work well with others and integrated himself into the culture and the way of life as a resident. But we knew applying to cardiology was reserved for few of the top residents. He met many great friends; some would show him the way, others would connect him with key clinicians and professors. Eventually, his hard work, being at the right place at the right time and a pinch of luck, got him into the cardiology subspecialty program at Queen’s University, Kingston.
So fast-forward to the present time, he has completed his training and on his way of working as a full-fledged physician. His accomplishment is not only a reflection of his hard work. It is a reflection of his dedication, his spirit of not letting his refugee status define or limit who he wants to be. More importantly, his success owes to the many great people who came along his way to guide him through, helped him overcome the obstacles and genuinely wanting to help him succeed in his endeavour.
His success and his achievement is an accumulation of many factors, many of which reflect our Canadian values – our compassionate spirit to welcome refugees into our country, our willingness to help each other in time of need, our respect for fair and equal opportunities for all Canadians.
I feel that many recent world events have somewhat tampered our Canadian spirit. I sense more hatred, intolerance or a sentiment that is filled with fear or anger. I want to share this story in celebration of 150th Canada Day. I want to remind fellow Canadians of our core Canadian values. I want refugees who have just recently settled in Canada not to give up. I want this story to help inspire them, motivate them and make them realize despite the current set back, the immediate obstacle ahead, they can achieve great things in Canada. We believe in Canadians and hope more Canadians will remember they have a responsibility to spread these Canadian values. We have to set a good example to show newcomers, to spread the values so they can experience them, appreciate them and eventually become part of who they are as Canadians. We are known to be friendly – let that friendliness warms another newcomer’s heart. Let our compassionate spirit help integrate our community with strength. Let our inclusiveness love and respect all individuals from different backgrounds, religions and cultures. This is what define us as Canadians. My husband’s journey from bartender to cardiologist would not have been possible without the help of many Canadians along the way. His success is also a celebration of his hard work as well as the Canadian values.
As I celebrate the success of my husband, I also want to say Happy 150th Canada Day. Thank you for inviting us into this great country and for its endless opportunities to all Canadians. #Canada150