Coming to America: Physicians’ Stories

In this special Independence day episode we look back at some of the amazing and courageous stories of physicians who came to America, or fled their homeland for a better life here. Happy Independence day, from everyone at MD Coaches.  

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Links to prior shows:

The Specialist: Jayesh Shaw, MD, UHM (ABPM), CWSP
The American: Jihad Mustapha, MD, FACC, FSCAI
The Survivor: LoAn Nguyen, MD
The Candidate: Nche Zama, MD, PhD

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Access the Show Transcript Here



[0:00] Your siblings will be looking for Hope down in the future maybe you the only one that can help us so with that reasoning as I said okay I’ll go.

[0:15] Paging dr. cook paging dr. cook dr. Turk you wanted in the OR.

[0:21] Music.

[0:44] Hello everyone and welcome to prescription for success.
I’m dr. Randy cook your host for the podcast which is a production of mg coaches.
Providing leadership and Executive coaching for Physicians by physicians’.
To overcome burnout transition your career develop as a leader or whatever your goal might be.
Visit MD coaches on the web at my MD because you’re not in this alone.
And don’t forget CME credit is available when you listen with us just look for cmf I in the show notes to learn how.

[1:23] Well in today’s episode which is being released on July 4th our RX for Success team thought it would be fitting.
To do something a little different in recognition of Independence Day.

[1:35] So in this episode will be playing A short segment from for previous interviews featuring Physicians who were born in foreign countries.
And decided to make their home in this country we’re calling It Coming to America and we’ll begin with a clip from episode number 64.
Featuring wound care and Hyperbaric medicine specialist dr. jayesh Shah and his story of leaving home in India.
To become a physician in the USA.

[2:08] Correct me if I’m wrong but it’s my understanding that you actually start your medical education in India.
Comparatively speaking at about the same time.
The you would have graduated from high school in the u.s. am I close to correct that is correct yeah I think we basically start,
medical school when we are in 80s and then but it is kind of fine half to six year
and we get Bachelor of medicine and Bachelor of surgery so we get mbbs and so to complete the whole thing it takes six years so yeah we do get done.
Couple of years earlier than a regular student in United States sure and and tell me about the decision and how you came to it.
The you would move to the US that had to have been a big deal for you.

[3:08] I would say it was a huge deal and I still remember that you know how I was debating with my friends and family whether I should do it or not you know and my sister
for and my brother-in-law was in Canada at that time and they are the one who
kind of inspired me to at least look around and see if this is something which you would like to do so I just came on vacation for
a couple of weeks during my medical school to see whether this is something I would like to do and I came to Canada and visited United States in 90,
1990 or 1991 for the first time and checked out some of the universities and the hospitals and checked out some of the friends who have been ahead of me and I felt
looks like this may be something I want to do and follow your dream you know
and so you landed a residency in Internal Medicine at Columbia University that’s pretty big deal.

[4:24] That was did you realize that did you know that you would really hit it out of the park on that
yeah there was a huge deal and I was really very happy I still remember my the moment when I signed a contract to be a resident at Columbia University you know II just made a call right away
from the Euro at that time you had to call from the.
Telephone stations right yes so we you went down and made international call and yeah I still remember those moments it’s definitely a life-changing moment
Tabata watch yeah it really really very grateful,
these stories of people making America their home by their own choice always come with some examples of incredible determination.

[5:19] Dr. J Mostafa escaped the 1970s Civil War in Lebanon at Great risk.

[5:26] He arrived in New York City a teenager unable to speak a word of English with just a few dollars in his pocket and a dream in his heart.
Today he is an internationally famous cardiologist so let’s hear a little bit of that story from episode number 24.

[5:45] So you had your very first experience with tending to the sick.
Long before your entry into medical school right yes and actually had I never was interested in becoming a doctor at the time and.
The circumstances back then push me into doing this and I did it many times many days and it’s you know some people find it hard to talk about some people don’t,
the way I look at it is,
is trying to back then is trying to help somebody because it’s what I was told to go and help somebody and you do what it what it takes to help somebody and.

[6:25] And that kind of stuck with me for life so that’s my approach to life right now is how anyone in need that I can help.

[6:33] Yeah and that was clearly and that was clearly the right thing to do at that time and it clearly has had a profound effect on your life that’s fascinating story and thank you for sharing it with us I want to move.
Forward fast forward if you will and get to the point where you and your brother began to conspire to get the both of you to the u.s. tell us about that,
it’s the work continued and you know it.
I think at the time as I mentioned Randy our age we’re not really sure sure exactly this is the.
This is the age that were given in the paperwork that we were given so we were allowed to go to the Embassy and get
visa to come to the u.s. if you are at a certain age you can do that so when were your parents are aware that you all were doing that.
No we were separated from my parents so I’m actually I actually go back and mention that’s the war actually got worse really bad.
And my parents decided to split their kids you know different part of the country and go around and visit
gum so or you stay with an aunt or an uncle or anything the village that we were in it was the one on the border with Israel.

[7:58] And at the time Israel had taken over this Village so you couldn’t lie and no one command and,
right basically there was nothing going on there except you know war and fighting back and forth actually told my brother that my father said there’s papers for us also the I Israeli Army mentioned that you can go and,
apply and you can go to you United States okay no so.
I hope my brother you know we should go and you know I was more aggressive than my brother was at the time so we needed eight hundred dollars to be able to go.
To Tel Aviv so.
We went and got the money and we need passports we had them went to the Israeli sort of.
What do you call it like a building where they’re staying and we ask them how can we go to Tel Aviv we have papers to go to the Embassy.

[8:59] And they told us to come back the second day in the morning 8:00 and then the help us.

[9:05] So the second day 8:00 we arrived before I get to that point they $100 the way we raised it we went from door to door in the village.
Saying with the sons of how Jolly which is my father and we need money to make an attempt to,
flee and go to United States and everybody gave us what they can $20 $10 $50 in point finally we made.
They had his own amazing yeah you just walked from door to door now were these strangers that you were calling on or were they people that you knew
you know I didn’t know all of them but in our village everybody knows everybody like the in the father W no at the father level.
It’s a great example of the mentality that ensues when everybody is under attack that’s amazing you just helped everybody right yeah.

[10:04] Absolutely and that’s exactly what happened and Annie watch as you grow kids when they come talk to my father they never say their name they always say I’m the son of so and so.
And my mother would just know exactly who they are and I figured will do the same.
My brother was not happy about it so he was always behind me we did this and so we once we collect the money and we can’t accommodate many times rainy because we did not want to be short.

[10:35] So make sure you have a hundred dollars so it exactly $100.

[10:40] So we went to the Israeli post and then they took us in a car to Cross Point.
And we got the cross for point we need to get to Tel Aviv and we didn’t want to pay a,
any money to get there because we didn’t have enough money,
we didn’t calculate for taxi I understand and it was not no such thing as taxi when I used to that teenager doesn’t have that kind of foresight right.
No I did not have that for it so I went back inside and talk to the soldiers and told him that,
you know this was really hurt us a lot in terms of getting enough money to
to achieve the goal and know you know sometimes when God wants things to work out they work out so he was able to put us in the back of a truck that was going to a certain point that is close to Tel Aviv.
So we sat in the back of the truck and at the time I had to pants two shirts and that’s it my brother had the same and the truck took us dropped us off and he told us if you walk that way the Ambassador right there.

[11:50] So we walked probably for about 15 minutes we found the embassy got in as if everything was waiting for us.
Did everything we need to do including physical exam got our visas we went to buy tickets and we found out we only have enough money for one.
So it wouldn’t in our culture the older sibling always makes the decision.
So he said well.

[12:19] You going to you going to go first and I will save I go back and save money and raise money and I’ll follow you if you months of course we are get back and forth a little bit but he gets the last say.
And he gave me $80 which that’s all we have left hiccup.
20 with him and I got the tickets and I came to United States.
Hi I’m Rhonda Crow founder and CEO for empty coaches here on RX for Success we interview a lot of great medical professionals on how they grew their careers how they overcame challenges.
And how they handle day-to-day work I really hope you’re getting a lot of great information.

[13:11] But if you’re looking for an answer to a specific problem management or Administration challenge.
Or if you’re feeling just a bit burnt out like maybe you chose the wrong career well then there’s a faster way to get the help you need now it’s not counseling it’s coaching.
RX for success is produced by MD coaches a team of Physicians who have been where you are.
I know you’re used to going it alone but you don’t have to get the support you need today visit us at my MD to schedule your complimentary consultation.
Again that’s my MD because you’re not in this alone.

[13:55] We’ll get back to our interview in just a moment but right now I want to tell you a little bit about physician Outlook.

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painting cooking politics and dozens of other topics physician Outlook gives a physician perspective
it’s available online and in print it’s really unique among physician lifestyle magazines and like the prescription for Success podcast
physician Outlook amplifies the voice of any physician who has something to say it also engages patients who still believe in physician-led,
team-based care and prescription for Success listeners can get 3 months free when you enter our promo code.
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at checkout that’s a really great deal on this stunning publication escape from violence and War has been the force that brought lots of people to America.

[15:08] Dr. lawand win fled Vietnam as a teenager with her family in 1975 during the fall of Saigon.

[15:17] In episode number 99 we heard the story of how she found her way to the US and became a successful internist despite immense obstacles.
And fueled by nothing but her own determination because I was
I’m a very poor family,
and medical school when I finished College I passed my baccalaureate degree exam with really high score and so,
I thought about medical school applying to medical school I came to my parents and they said you know we can’t afford
for you to go to Saigon to study so what is your next choice and and I said well I guess I could go to become a teacher
so I enroll in a university of dalat we’re in my hometown.

[16:15] So I start enrolling in 1974.

[16:20] Right after high school in the doing that year is in April of that year is when the South Vietnamese government started to fall
as you remember the Communist military people
start to take one city one by one starting from the north and down to the South I remember vividly right at the lad was right in the middle of between South and and central part of the country.

[16:47] Believe it or not I was actually,
employed as a radio announcer during those years and I actually read that news over American radio yeah yeah and and so because of that when it came close to the lat,
without my family innocently thought my mother and father physically thought,
well perhaps a country we can’t divide it again and so so why don’t we go south the further south so we went back down this icon to be with my relative
and then in April that she as you can see that on TV that it was the fault of the South government was imminent
and I was I lost my family was about lost what will become of us sorry you were held at that point
okay I had a cousin who married to an American GI and they were stationing in Guam this is the magic of the story they so my cousin,
had a mother and a brother inside Ghana the time.

[17:54] And somehow she her husband was able to connect with the American Embassy and they said they got the call my cousin
my my aunt and my cousin and said we need to take you again you out of the country
because you are affiliated with American American having American family in America
need to get you out and so give me a list of people that you need to get out and my cousin who was like a brother to me thought of me and another cousin so he jotted
his name his mother’s name and my name and my other cousins name and so
the next morning he came to my mother and father and said this is the only chance that for me to get out so I have to leave the country but I also
have your Lawns name on the list to leave the country would you let her go
within an instant my parents had of course she needs to go because she is so interested in education and with the commonest came there’s no way that she can continue with her education
oh my goodness that must have been.

[19:06] It was scary I just can’t imagine what your parents must have been feeling and what you must you must have been feeling so that she came to our place where we stay
they said you have two hours to decide how come back in 2 hours to pick her up if that’s what you decide
and my first reaction was how could I leave my family I never knew anything other than my family of course so.

[19:33] And my parents said
they explained that they said you have to go because we know how much you love to study the love to learn and that will be the end if you stay
and two is that if you go we have some hope and you may be able to help us somehow in the future I have I’m the oldest of seven children
and so they said you or your siblings will be looking for Hope down in the future maybe you the only one that can help us.
So with that reasoning as I said okay I’ll go what an amazing story amazing,
so into our than two hours I got picked up
I was at that time as you’d imagine people running to the the embassy which looking for a way to leave the country and people who drive to the coast
looking for a way to leave the country so I got picked up by a unmarked bus
that basically piss dark they just poop you in take you to the airport and so I left with my cousin my aunt
and my other cousin we stay at the airport that was April 27 which is 3 days before the actual fall of the government.

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[22:15] He came to America on a student visa with only twenty dollars in his pocket.

[22:20] Literally raised in a grass Hut he witnessed the death of his mother and child birth as a result of lack of Medical Care.

[22:28] That of it created a shift in his life’s purpose.
And in episode number 102 we heard how he not only became a physician in this country he was recently a candidate for governor.
Of the state of Pennsylvania.

[22:42] Music.

[22:48] So yes I stated I was actually born in a little grass Hut Village in Cameroon the Northwestern part of Cameroon and Africa and I was raised by Christian conservative,
illiterate subsistence farmers.
My mom and dad were very loving but was strict disciplinarian since and you know we were just a normal village family that time
and it just to give us a feel about how many citizens were there in that Village,
I promised Helen to say about 5,000 okay would say and so it was a good size Village.
And so at a very young age I started agitate that I wanted to go to school and my parents kept telling me I was too young and I kept agitating and.
Because I had an older cousin who was about four years older than me.

[23:49] And he would started Elementary School actually has gone attending a Catholic School missionary School.
And you know there was something about education that it just told me completely transformed him I mean I loved his uniform.
Was learning a new language and he signed these nice,
Christian Missionary songs that I’ve never heard before and just as mannerisms his whole attitude but just to make sure we we have the entire flavor of what’s going on here it sounds as if in your little village.

[24:26] It was not necessarily a given that a child was going to go to school is that right.
That’s right where there were so few educational opportunities and you’re exactly right.
And a lot of parents you know as a child you had duties you joined your father and your mother.
On the farm and so there was always something to you to do and so
this whole concept of Education to a lot of villages was not something they really embraced
but my uncle who sent my cousin to school he had a couple years of education so there was just something.
He knew something that probably my parents didn’t know you know and in any case so three years of age my uncle finally took me to a school was a presbyterian school but I was real.
Some early rejected because they said I was too young and and so I was very sad and the same day,
when we left that school he says well you know alright well let’s go to the Catholic elementary school and see what they say we got there,
same things too young go home you know maybe come back next year or the year after,
didn’t even give you an audition it’s like they didn’t give me a time of day at least the first school they got to talk to me and ask them questions and.

[25:49] So finally
I got back to the Village I’m really down in the dumps feeling down because I wanted to go to school and it’s just education I wanted to be like my cousin
yeah so I have an uncle showed up and says hey did you hear the one about this a new Baptist missionary school they’re opening you know.
And for we took off like a bat out of hell and trekking.
Not too far away from the village we got to the place and it was a long line of parents and students waiting to make their case for admission and we join the line and we got,
to the teacher calm the Headmaster who’s the first teacher.

[26:32] And I can remember it like yesterday Mr one key was his name it was a one-room School in a hunt.
And my uncle kept pleading with him and I was standing here myself looking.
Very sad and anxious and and so he looked at me and he said I remember like it was yesterday says we’ll take him
and so I started Elementary School that day and wow why was I excited and as I’ve always said I would
never went back to the Village mentally because I started to learn new things and my mind was traveling around the world.
You know I lived in a village physically but mentally I was you know gone and then I was at that time living with my grandmother who was a leper.
And you know people didn’t understand leprosy she had lost digits her thumbs and toes and she was living alone in a neighboring Village.
And so my parents asked if I would live with it while they didn’t really ask that you go live with Grandma and you hop off.

[27:38] And so we lived together in one room tiny Hut so you were were you serving more or less as her caregiver,
yes I was so caregiver I am I would watch I mean I remember distinctly finger or two just falling off the Rocks away you know like what that how.
She have sores and I would help clean them and they smelled and and but she was so loving grandma
you know and would really sad me is often times she a now would be walking to the farmers something and people would see her and her deformities
and they will shun her and make funny sounds and despise her and I would get so angry.
And she would look at me and say son don’t get angry.
She goes within everybody there’s good and there’s bad you need to focus on the good they’re good people they just don’t understand
and so those were very powerful lessons in life that I began to learn living with my leper grandmother.

[28:41] And then I continue to school and when I got to the third grade I was skipping a great actually to the next great,
but they didn’t have a new school they needed to build a new school so I got to the campus at the beginning of the year,
and we were told you know we couldn’t continue that so I trekked to another Baptist school which was about I want to say six to eight miles away from the village and that’s why I enrolled,
but it was just really difficult getting up every morning,
A Long Walk Through the Woods this was there was no highway so my parents had me transferred.
Back to that Presbyterian school that had initially rejected me a few years early and and so I was close at home and every night Mom and Dad
when she got home from the farm and she made dinner and we ate and had that kerosene lamp shade lighter,
the laments that she’ll have me sit down and said Son sit your butt down and start studying and I would do homework every single night and I want to say two hours minimum,
and think so things were going great and it was something about education of our stuff to talk about this that my enthusiasm.
For Education became infectious as far as my parents were concerned.

[30:07] It’s to a point where sometimes my dad would ask me to teach him some of the things,
I’ve been learning really oh yes he was so excited and I taught him the ABCs numbers and stuff you know it’s just a poor farmer get read or write
and so about 10 years of age my mother my parents got arrested because I had an uncle who would had about a sixth grade education.
And he was agitating about a new philosophy would never heard of nobody called democracy you know that time we were in socialism and dictatorship.

[30:42] So these little troublemaker troublemaker and he would talk to people about freedoms and Liberties and rights and.
You know the natives and the government got wind of it and they send agents to arrest him and kill him really.

[30:58] And he heard about it and he under cover of Darkness he ran away and so when the Jean Downs the police when they came.
And couldn’t find him they arrested my dad and mom there’s they thought they knew his whereabouts and so they were taken to jail what does poor kids alone in that her I’ll know my goodness sad
one of the most difficult times I still often times my sister and I my older sister when we chat
you know reminisce and that always comes up how tough a time that was forced you know and my mother was raped in jail my father was tortured,
and but eventually it will both let go.
And our lives continued and then one day I was coming back from school I was about 10 years worth of age I ran into my uncle Simon Bush path somewhere.
And he looks very anxious I’ve never seen that look on his face and I what’s the matter Uncle Sam well your mother’s not doing well she went to the hospital to give birth,
and she needs blood so for 10 year old needs blood I don’t know I’ve never heard of somebody needed blood so I ran off to the hospital.
And when I got there and it was just a hospital and name it was one one doctor at the hospital only one doctor.

[32:19] And I was just a bush hospital when I walked into the room my mom was in a corner.
There was blood flowing from a groin making a puddle on the floor,
and she was writhing in pain and just morning and just in terrible distress she heard my my voice and she goes son go home I’m dying and I says mommy please don’t die ran across to her health at hand.
Squeeze the hand and a leg and standing in the corner in the same room was a nurse with her arms up in the air and she was crying actually.
And she kept saying the repeating there’s no doctor there’s no doctor you know there’s no doctor.
And I kept squeezing my mom’s hand and she kept saying son go home I said no mommy please don’t die unfortunately she died.
And I hadn’t really seen my baby brother who just been born a few hours before you know.
And unfortunately a couple weeks later he too died because we didn’t have a neonatal intensive care all the resources we have in the modern world,
but that night as I left the room and I was walking back to the Village.
The words of that nurse will ringing in my ears there’s no doctor so I decided I want to be a doctor.

[33:40] Because doctors save lives and I didn’t want any child ever to experience what I just experienced and I didn’t want any parent to have to suffer like my mama just suffered so I said I want to be a doctor so I can save lives
I gotta tell you,
the most powerful answer to the question why did you want to be a doctor that I have ever heard yeah and I doubt seriously that it’ll ever be.
It’s your past that is really powerful that’s the day that I made the decision that I wanted to be a doctor,
and so,
I got back to the village and I have to tell you 3 months before that before her death my mom and I have been sitting right in front of a hat.
You know an afternoon we would chat you know I was I was Mommy’s boy know and there was the best
boarding school secondary school was a few miles away from the village and once a week they let out those kids on Wednesdays,
to go to the city and run errands and it the path that they would take to the city came right in front of Aza.

[34:51] And so we’re sitting there my mom and I and these kids come walking cast and,
and all handsome little boys dressed up in their uniforms and my mother looked at me I’m standing next to her and she looked at the kids and she goes son.
That’s why I want you to go to school if you ever.

[35:12] Enter that’s cool I will die a happy mother while and so she goes that’s the best school and that’s where I want you to go.

[35:19] And after she died I went there to seek admission and they didn’t have room in the first year.
You only have a spot in the second year I says I’ll take it my same uncle again took me.

[35:33] And so I wrote and you can imagine it’s like starting College in the sophomore year and so I hadn’t heard of chemistry,
and the kids in the second year it had a year of chemistry year physics year biology math took you know geometry trigonometry
all these new Concepts I never heard of so I would be studying first-year material and second-year material simultaneously as something it’s just very hard to describe
those are probably the most challenging times of my life my academic life but most importantly I’ve always said God.
On your journey in life God plans Angels along the way and one of those Angels Among many who sell American Peace Corps volunteer.

[36:20] And the piece called movement was just very powerful at that time but I was really is and he took particular interest in me and he would feed me books,
you know incessantly because I love to read I just had a voracious appetite for books,
and one day he said son you’re very hard-working student because I would leave campus sometimes and go to my farm I had a little farm,
where I grew corn pineapples vegetables I would sell to defray some of my school
costs expenses and he says son you work very hard if you go to America you can be the doctor you’ve always wanted to be,
because if you work hard towards in America you would be successful I remember those two words work hard.

[37:12] So when I graduated I applied to multiple colleges but the schools I applied to in America I would select schools with,
very low tuition because I knew I’d be working hard I didn’t have anybody to help sponsor me,
and I got into a school in Baltimore called coppin and then one day the natives all sat around in our Hut.
And they donated what amounted to twenty dollars for pocket money.
And my father sold her house with the crops around it in the land to a rich man and got $300,
and with that he bought me a one-way ticket to New York City my goodness and here I was at skipped about three or four grades total between Elementary and secondary school
and I was just a little teenager when I arrived in New York City not knowing anything all by myself.

[38:10] What do you think of that when you arrived in new oh man I was scared I was I mean you got to read this book I wrote this book and you know the title is mommy please don’t die
which is based on the last last works I shared with my mother but in that book I detail,
my first experience in America was to say.

[38:30] Challenging at best because I accept the money that I brought it was 10,000 Francs got about twenty dollars I got scammed out of the money oh no I had enough,
to finally love the airport and I got to Port Authority bus station and there I encountered another Angel and he helped me out with the luggage I must look really confused trying to negotiate,
navigate through the subway I’ve never seen it’s been on a train I mean there was just everything was new
I’ve never speaking English at that time oh yeah I did because I’ve gone to
an English-speaking Secondary School yeah okay and also I spoke French now I speak six languages but then I only spoke about three you know see only actually oh yeah and and so
he gave me $20 and I was able to catch a bus to ball I got to Baltimore same thing,
didn’t have any money a cab driver took me right across across the street up up the hill to the YMCA.
And where I checked in they told me if you if you’re in any City and you’re stuck in America go to a YMCA.

[39:42] So I got in and they allowed me to register without paying this because I promised them I’ll find a way to pay.

[39:51] We certainly hope you’ve enjoyed these inspiring stories of Physicians Coming to America and we thank you for joining us today.
We’d really appreciate a review from you and a five-star rating helps give our podcast much more visibility.

[40:07] Exclusive content is available on our patreon page including membership only material.
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Had RX for success to subscribe while you’re there learn how to get CME credit from cmf I just by listening.
Special thanks to Ryan Jones who created and performs our theme music,
and remember be sure to fill your prescription for success with my next episode.