I am originally from Sierra Leone, West Africa. I completed medical training in Russia, and matriculated to the United States. Now a freelancer, I offer a full range of Regulatory Medical Writing, Project Management, and Career Training (both group and individual) Services. I also help individuals make informed choices about their health.
In my previous posts, I shared some of the challenges I faced as a foreign medical graduate who sought to practice medicine in the US, including how I built a career network starting with ‘zero’ connections. An informational meeting led to some ‘insider information’ on a vacancy in the laboratory of Dr. Andrew Gow, at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
With no experience in biomedical research and no established track record in academia, how did I prepare for the interview? The preparation was mainly mental. To successfully pursue any career outside of medicine, I had to mentally acknowledge that I was making the right choice, that doing so would not leave a void in me. Not knowing how my parents will feel also weighed on me. They expected me to carry out the commitments incumbent on me as a result of my medical training.
I am originally from a part of the world where training as a clinician means one thing only–that is, working as a clinician. Sierra Leone also happens to be one of the poorest countries in the world. Rightly, many will not understand my decision not to embark on a career that makes good money (despite the cost).
As stated in a previous post, the United States Medical Licensing Examinations are very expensive and time-consuming for most immigrants who have family responsibilities, both locally and abroad. Furthermore, passing the exams is no guarantee that one will be accepted in a residency program. Then, there was the weekly hourly requirement as a medical resident (120 hours).
For me, it all came down to what was most important. So I chose to pursue a career that offered me flexibility. When changing careers, it pays to count the cost. I interviewed for ‘a’ position in Andrew’s lab. Although I had no experience in biomedical research, I did have skills and qualities that are relevant in the field. So I had something to take to the table. As a child, I was constantly curious. I was not satisfied by simply being told the answers (see first post).
Curiosity, and a desire to ask questions is important within biomedical research. I have always being a meticulous person. This, too, is an asset in biomedical research, since the slightest experimental variations can cloud the issues. I am a person of strong commitment, and I take all aspects of my work very seriously. I also had strong presentation and persuasion skills. My varied background and ability to interact with others was also an asset. So was my clinical background.
I was also a quick learner and a hard worker. Before I interviewed for the position, I started a correspondence called “The Immigrant Times.” It informs immigrants of the resources available to them (regardless of their immigration status). I was both the writer and editor. That experience is of value in biomedical writing.
Furthermore, as a person of faith, prayer allayed my fears. It also helped me not to be overconfident. In future posts, I’ll share other skills and qualities that will help anyone starting off in biomedical research. The interview went well.
Looking back, one thing I didn’t know then that I know now, is the need to sell myself during the interview (that is my skills, experience and qualities). If you are considering a career change, take time to write down all the skills, experiences and qualities you possess, even those that may seem irrelevant. Be prepared to sell yourself.
I accepted the offer to join Andrew’s lab as a research intern. The offer (I thought) was fair, because I had no background in biomedical research. Besides, I was not sure whether I’ll like the monotony of bench work (doing things per protocol most, or all of the time). In future posts I’ll share those early experiences, including how my first project validated my choice of bench research.
Christiana W. Davis, MD
Owner, Consult To Aspire