A journey through time and space

By Dr. Aquila Gopaul

IMGs come in all shapes and sizes

I am sure you are familiar with the phrase “IMG”, International Medical Graduate, or CSAs, Canadians studying abroad – or maybe you aren’t. But after doing electives across Canada, a one-year research fellowship, and beginning my residency training here in Calgary, I do know one thing: everyone has a preconceived idea of a “typical” IMG.

Whatever image the word “IMG” conjures for you, I can assure you that it does not encompass the spectrum of individuals who wear that badge. In the Calgary family medicine program alone, we have representatives from Britain, Iraq, Pakistan, the UAE and Canada! We have fresh-faced medicine grads, full qualified general surgeons, pediatricians and family docs.

When I was asked to write a blog post about medicine from an international perspective, I immediately thought about how unqualified I am. With that, I want to emphasize that IMGs come in all shapes and sizes and my story is my own. I know many of my peers have experienced incredibly different paths and I am awed by their strength of character, positivity and determination.

MY personal IMG journey:

What about me? Where am I from?

Well… umm… Calgary.

But where am I really from?

I am Canadian.  A Canadian who is “ethnically Indian, born in Trinidad and Tobago and immigrated to Canada at age 13”.  And yes – I speak English very well because it is my first and only language.

I very rarely feel the need to share that much information on my first meeting with someone, but I will admit that most people are not satisfied by my initial answer of “Calgary” and rarely let me stop there.

Needless to say, culturally, I have often felt like an outsider. That was compounded when I made the incredibly difficult decision of studying medicine abroad.

I started medical school in Dublin, Ireland in 2015. These four years were filled with fantastic friendships, food, and flights across Europe. It was also filled with frequent feelings of fear, uncertainty, and inadequacy. When committing to studying medicine outside of Canada, you are committing to a very real possibility of not being able to return home. You make the decision with yourself that leaving your family, friends and familiarity behind is worth pursuing medicine and becoming a physician.

I made that choice and was fortunate enough to be one of the few able to live my dream of practicing medicine in Canada.

Now that I am through it all, I am grateful for the wealth of experiences I’ve accrued and all the people I have built relationships with along the way.

How has the label of IMG shaped me:

Being an IMG, regardless of where you have trained and how much training you have, means deeply entrenched insecurity and self-doubt. I am only a PGY 1, but even after successfully matching into residency, I still have a severe case of imposter syndrome – of not only am I good enough – but am I comparable to my CMG counterparts.

I have also adopted and internalized other qualities that I hope will serve me as I continue my journey.

I was fortunate to be present in Ireland during movement to legalize abortion, and just after the legalization of gay marriage. There was an incredible mobilization of protesters, people providing information on the topic, and passionate discussions by professors and staff from the medical school. It was a striking contrast to the political apathy I have seen from many of my Canadian peers.

I cannot say for certain that it is apathy – however, when faced with political discussions surrounding discrimination, funding, and policies, my CMG peers are less likely to be as outspoken and blunt as my Irish peers. I have certainly wondered if this is simply a cultural difference and Canadians are just as passionate in private. Either way, my outspoken Irish and British friends had no shame in having a heated discussion.

This filter free style of conversation in Ireland is similar to my upbringing in the Caribbean. This is something I have latched onto and internalized. I have brought back with me a belief and passion that we can change deeply entrenched flaws in our medical system with persistence .

My take-away:

As an IMG I am one of a truly diverse group. My story is not reflective at all of any of my peers. I have overcome my own hurdles and have come out all the better for it. I know that each resident physician throughout Canada has had their own unique journey that colours their perspective – I encourage us to celebrate and actively share our uniqueness. To be better physicians and people.

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Dr. Aquila Gopaul is a family medicine resident physician at the University of Calgary.