Around the world

My journey toward my dream career, as told by an international student

Medicine is one of the most challenging career paths to pursue, and going through medical school alone in a foreign country seemed even more terrifying to my family.


Imagine how you would feel if you had a chance to move to a different country—on a different continent even—with no family or friends, and without fluently speaking a foreign language, at the age of 18? What if I told you that you had to go through all of that in order to become a physician one day?

When presented with this situation, I jumped at the chance, alarming my family and friends as I discussed with them my future plans after finishing high school in Moscow. None of my family members were physicians or worked in the medical field, so I could understand their confusion about my obsession of moving to the United States to study medicine. Many people might agree that medical education is one of the most challenging career paths one could choose for themselves, but going through that alone in a foreign country seemed even more terrifying to my family.

Unfortunately, the medical field in Russia has not been at its best for some time now due to a lack of advanced technology, novel research and governmental support. So, after convincing my family to support my dream, I moved to Florida to start my undergraduate education on a pre-medical track a few weeks after my high school graduation.

Breaking through undergraduate culture shock

Culture shock seemed like an understatement when I first arrived in the U.S. Between the language barrier, drastic changes in climate, different mentalities and, most importantly, lack of my support system, I felt the weight of my obstacles immediately upon arrival. For the most part, I was the only one who noticed these within my life, and it took me several years to recognize the entire extent of the cultural adjustment process I went through.

Everything seemed very foreign, unfamiliar and odd to me, which instantly made me feel like an outsider with a deep sense of loneliness. I knew that I had to change my routine of only going to classes and then coming back to the dorm because it limited me in overcoming those barriers. I started joining multiple student clubs, attending campus events and meeting new friends wherever I went.

Since my ultimate hobby has always been salsa dancing, the first event I attended happened to be a salsa social organized by a Cuban-American student club, where I made my first two friends, who are now matched physicians getting ready to start their residencies soon. My love for dancing ultimately helped me build my social support group that made me feel at home while far away from my actual home.

Staying positive throughout the hardships

As I moved forward with my undergraduate studies, I was getting closer to the point where I had to take the most terrifying exam in a pre-medical student’s life—the MCAT. As an international student, I kept hearing that it was nearly impossible to get into medical school unless I had an exceptionally high MCAT score. Every single advisor I talked to suggested switching my career plans because the admission statistics for international students were extremely low.

After receiving my first MCAT’s score back, I had a full-blown emotional breakdown because it was not a score that I thought would set me apart from other international students, and I figured applying with that score would jeopardize my chances of getting accepted. I felt so disappointed in myself that I started believing those advisors, who kept swinging me away from making the mistake of applying to medical schools.

After a few gloomy days, I received a phone call from my father, who has always had an inspiring “warrior” mentality about him. His advice to me on that call was concise yet very powerful—he told me “Every Olympic champion was once a contender who did not give up.” Soon thereafter, I made the decision to retake the MCAT exam and apply to medical schools after taking an additional year to complete my master’s degree. Retaking the MCAT is a nerve-wracking experience for most pre-medical students because they typically feel more pressure to do well the second time around.

Luckily, this time I felt more confident in my chances of getting accepted into medical school, and my new score gave me hope that I would fulfill my dream. When I got my medical school acceptance letter in the mailbox, I could not believe my eyes. I was happy, shocked, excited and overall proud of myself for pursuing my dream career regardless of countless moments of self-doubt. I embarked on my medical school journey.

Getting closer to my dream

Throughout the past three years of medical school, I have learned so much about myself and the people around me. Medical school can truly be a life-changing experience that teaches you so many wonderful lessons on life, love and medicine. I have made meaningful friendships with my classmates, met incredible physicians who became the ultimate role models for me, connected with patients and had lots of opportunities to give back to my community.

At the same time, I’ve dealt with various hardships on my journey, including tragic deaths in my family and the inability to travel back home for several years.

As I am entering my final year of medical school, I am convinced that dreams do come true, and the only secret is to never stop going after what you want. An 18-year-old girl from Moscow who always dreamed of becoming a doctor in the United States is now only a few months away from transforming her dream into reality.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

How this DO matched into orthopedic surgery

Five more unique electives for residency

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy