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March 15, 2019 was the day I found out that my dream of becoming an interventional radiologist was now a reality. To give a little background, Match Day is the third Friday of March that occurs annually. It is the day that senior medical students from all over the United States find out where they will be continuing their medical training in their respective fields. This comes after many tedious and stressful months of interviewing at various programs and submitting ranking lists. By participating in “the Match,” applicants are contractually obligated to attend the programs to which they match. It is a bizarre process. In any case, Match Day is when fates are revealed. Unfortunately, not everyone get a “match” since there are more applicants than available positions and some specialties are more difficult to match in than others.

I was one of the lucky ones. Interventional Radiology (IR) is considered to be the most competitive specialty at the moment. It’s gaining a lot of popularity with the number of emerging procedures that spans every organ system, utilizing minimally-invasive approaches. I personally think it’s the coolest medical specialty, but I digress.

The odds were not in my favor. This year, there were 113 positions offered with 319 total applicants, which meant approximately 1 in 3 applicants were fortunate enough to match into IR. Furthermore, IR is a heavily male-dominated field with only 10% of IR consultants being female. I was doing everything I could to bolster my application. I got good grades, solid board scores, had hobbies outside of medicine, and I like to believe that I’m reasonably normal. I looked like most every other candidate.

Along the way, I met a string of people that changed my course. There was one person in particular that made a lasting impact – an IR fellow that I met while rotating at an outside hospital. I remember going home after the first couple days on rotation feeling defeated. I was the newbie on the service and was just another body in the room. I didn’t know how the structure of things worked and felt useless. I thought to myself that I might as well plan for a backup career now while I still have time to change my mind.

However, after interacting more with this fellow and showing her that I was interested in being a part of the team, she took me under her wing and showed me the ropes. Over time, she trusted me to do more during procedures and in turn, the attending physicians became more receptive to having me help out. She gave me some pointers on how to improve my techniques and explained her thought process when interpreting images and looking through charts. She even shared her experiences being a woman in a male-dominated sphere and obstacles she had faced while having a child during her training years.

She was the first female mentor that I had. The fact that she was female meant that I had a role model that looked like me – someone that I aspired to be like. Navigating the professional sphere as a woman is inherently different and having a mentor that can relate to the workplace inequalities and social microaggressions certainly makes it seem less daunting. If she could do it, why couldn’t I?

“Us women are hard to come by around here. We need to stick together.”

Later, I found out that she gave me a glowing recommendation to her seniors. I ended up matching at this phenomenal program and I know that having her mentorship heavily swayed the cards in my favor. For that, I will be eternally grateful.

At my medical school, I was a peer mentor for several students that were one to three years behind me in training. Interacting with these students reminded me of how uncertain I was at those stages. I’ve been told that the casual coffee time chats and late night, frantic texting before exams helped them to feel like they’re not alone in this process. There’s not an official step-by-step guide on how to achieve your dreams. After all, everyone’s journey is different and that would make this life thing way too easy. But knowing what other people have gone through and hearing about things they wish they did or what they found valuable in the long-run is immensely helpful. It also makes me feel better knowing that the knowledge I gained from all my past failures can make a meaningful difference for those that follow in my steps.

I cannot overstate the importance of mentorship, especially if you are a minority in your field. It makes it so that dreams that you thought were impossible can seem within reach. Mentorship opens doors and builds networking connections that can bolster a young person still finding their way. I know that I would not be on the road to pursuing my dream career without the amazing mentors that have given me their unwavering support along the way.

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

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Stephanie Nguyen


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Stephanie Nguyen, MD

A blog about life as a young physician

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