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An American Dream and Journey to Fruition

An inspiring story of how a childhood passion developed into a Dream and became a reality. Overcoming trials and tribulations along her journey.

As a young girl, I grew up with two beloved family cats and I was around animals quite a bit, because my father’s career was in animal science, education and sustainability.

Being around farm animals and our family cats, I always knew that I wanted to work with animals. After graduating high school I went onto a five year program at a veterinary school, in addition to completing a two year clinical research master program and stayed in the University for two additional years working as a resident.

Being not a US citizen and only seeing veterinary practices within my country and neighboring countries, I was fortunate enough to go abroad during my fourth year of vet school. I went to an Ivy League University in the US, for four weeks and shadowed their cardiology and surgery service teams.

It was a complete culture shock. The amount of knowledge and the very different teaching methods of encouraging logical thinking were something that I had never experienced before, in my country.

It was very intriguing to me.

On a separate trip, I visited two additional Universities, as an exchange student during my master’s degree. It just helped reaffirm my decision of becoming a surgeon in United States.

As a foreigner, my veterinary degree was not recognized by the US. In order for me to practice in the US, I had to be persistent and overcome a few substantial obstacles, to get a license.

I was very determined to do whatever it took.

There are a couple of different options, most of them involved multiple exams- English exam, basic knowledge exam, hands on exam or go to a vet school as a 4th year student for a year, before I can take the national licensing exam.

I spent a year preparing for the English exam, for the basic knowledge test and submitting applications ahead of time, before I could begin the journey.

My journey began in 2013 where I went to a State University as a 4th year student, under the PAVE program and took the equivalency licensing exam in 2014.

Finally, after two years of preparation, I finally received a veterinary license to practice in the US as a veterinarian, which enabled me to apply for an internship/residency program.

This was only the beginning of my journey to becoming a surgeon.

Another option, but very costly was to go to a US vet school for another four years or go to Australia, New Zealand or Europe to obtain a veterinary degree that is internationally recognized. This option was not an option that I could afford.

To go on past receiving a veterinary degree and to become a surgeon, one needs to complete at least a rotating internship and residency training program (3-4 years depending on the training). For US citizens, you can choose to do your internship and residency through either an approved private practice or through a veterinary training program at either a smaller vet school or through a major University.

Being a foreigner, my options were very limited as most of the private practices do not accept people who are not US citizens or lawful residents and half of the vet school in the US also don’t accept foreigners. There is a process for acquiring a working or visiting scholar VISA that the majority of private practices and smaller veterinary colleges do not have the staff, knowledge or resources to navigate.

It’s a very competitive field, with hundreds of applications being submitted, every year, for internship and resident programs.

After receiving my vet license, I was fortunate enough to match a one-year rotating internship position at a major University, the following year.

During my rotating internship, I made my first attempt of applying for a surgical internship/residency, at a licensed private practice.

I was matched to a private practice in California, but the clinic was not prepared for the VISA process and they later withdrew the offer.

My dream was crushed.

I was frantically emailing Universities, hoping that some places will accept me.

I probably sent out 20-30 emails to all the vet schools in the US asking for a paid or even an unpaid position for a surgical internship or research fellow, just so I can stay relatively on course.

I was blessed and so fortunate that a research fellow position opened at a major state University. Initially, it was to be an unpaid position for six months, to do some clinical research in a surgical lab. Most importantly, they were willing and able to provide a visiting scholar VISA for me.

A couple of weeks prior to my start date, I was informed that the lab received grant money so they can hire me as an official paid assistant.

Working as a research fellow, it wasn’t my duty to help in the clinic or the teaching lab, but I volunteered my time. Showing my appreciation, for the opportunity, I showed up every morning to go to their clinical rounds, helped out with teaching labs and helped out with all the residents and the clinicians.

While working hard for those six months, as a research fellow, I made my second attempt at applying for a surgical residency.

Again, I did not receive a match, in any of the highly competitive residency programs that I applied for.

I remember on the day of the match result, I opened my laptop at 5 am.

Nothing… No match.

I didn’t know where my dream of becoming a surgeon was headed.

I was beginning to feel that I was at a crossroads in my life.

Do I go back to my country? Do I stay in the US, but where do I go?

Thankfully, I was offered another six months as a research fellow, by the same University.

Later that day, everyone was scrambling to look for their next job, specialty internship, residency or some of them would just give up being a surgeon, because it was overwhelming, stressful and too much for them to handle, when they knew that they could just begin their veterinary careers as a veterinarian.

After three weeks of scrambling (which normally takes about 1-2 days for a US citizen) and not knowing where my future would be, I got another opportunity to go to a University in Canada, for another year as a surgical internship.

If you are keeping track, what normally is a four year process which entails a one year internship and a three year residency has now become:

One year internship completed at University One year research fellowship at University One year internship at University in Canada

In addition, to the two years prior spent on studying for the US exams and the veterinary equivalency license.

At this point, I’m five years into a four year journey and I’m nowhere near accomplishing my dream.

Yet even with having to do an additional year of internship and having to do a year of research fellowship, due to my match withdrawing their offer, I felt it is still one step closer to my dream.

I stayed in Canada for a year and worked my ass off, to prove that I have what it takes to become a surgeon.

It was a brutally cold winter that year; we had record high snow day that the hospital got shot down, because of the snow storm. As an intern, we were not required to go, because the road conditions were so bad.

Since it was unsafe to drive to the hospital, I walked there so I could take care of my patients.

Finally, my third attempt of applying and being matched for a surgical residency came to fruition.

I was matched to the same State University where I did my research fellowship.

My residency was not smooth sailing, by any means, though.

During my first year, the gap between the training and knowledge from my vet college degree to the level expected at a US University was profound.

I found myself literally racing to catch up.

Every evening, spending time after hours, studying, researching and asking questions, so I could be better prepared, for the next day.

Towards the end of my first year, the knowledge gap was prevalent, but decreasing. More importantly the lack of self confidence that I had was holding me back and so, they put me on probation.

I felt lost and I was scared, that I may not be qualified enough to be a surgeon.

Thankfully, I had a tremendous amount of help and support from my mentors at work and from my partner, whom all helped get me back on track.

I finally graduate my surgical residency in 2020 and passed the ACVS board exam in 2021 and received the Diplomate of ACVS.

As with everything in life, there are always trials and tribulations. My journey is no different.

The challenges did not just stop, after accomplishing my dream of becoming a surgeon.

Although, the challenges that I faced ahead may have been somewhat self inflicted, this time, by my decisions to live in a state that unfortunately did not accept my equivalency program of PAVE, at the time.

I decided to work in a state which is only one out of 8 states in the US that did not recognize the PAVE equivalency program that I took when I first got my license to practice in the US.

After working at the emergency hospital for six months, I was banned from working within the state, until either the state politics approved the PAVE program or until I studied and took the currently approved equivalency course called ECFVG.

Fortunately, my employer stood by my side, during these difficult times and I was able to retain my surgical title and position, while navigating the next several months of uncertainty.

It would take me another six months of going through the submission processes and the board meetings with the state to come to realization that they only way to practice in the state that I had come to love and enjoy would be to once again study, prepare and take the ECFVG equivalency course.

Although, the idea of studying for another equivalency course felt daunting it was the only way that would be allowed to practice veterinary medicine within the state.

Having no other options, at the time, I was forced to practice for the next four months out of state, within the same company, to help gain experience and to keep my skills sharp.

I spent an additional 2 months studying and it would take another $10,000 to take the ECFVG test, in order for me to be able to go back home and practice doing what I love.

Life is never easy, but if you really have a passion about something, you have to be all in.

No matter what happens, no matter how many times you fall and get knocked down, get back up and keep going.

In the end, it will all be worth it.

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