By Dr. Rocio Carrera
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our lives and plans. Almost a year after the world went into quarantine and after countless losses of lives, jobs, and homes, we can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the mass vaccination programs in many countries.
My life, same as many others, changed radically during 2020. I was working as an attending at a general hospital in Mexico City. After finishing residency in both general and thoracoscopic surgery, that was not my initial plan. I wanted to complete my surgical training abroad, but my own indecisiveness, lack of savings, and support, led me to postpone that dream. Not having achieved it right after finishing my fellowship was disappointing, and one of my biggest mistakes was always comparing myself to others. At that time, I felt that all the people I knew, especially my residency peers, were doing important things and I was stuck.
In early 2020, I received an email with an offer letter for a senior fellow position at the University of Washington to which I had applied the previous year. I was ecstatic and accepted almost immediately. I started making plans and a few weeks later, the pandemic hit. They were difficult months trying to take all the necessary precautions to protect myself and my family. On top of that, I was concerned that the fellowship start date was fast approaching, and all the paperwork was on hold. With a bit of luck, I got my visa and was finally able to travel.
When I arrived, I didn’t know anyone, the city was completely shut down, and all the meetings were virtual. After the initial excitement and keeping busy settling in, the reality is that I started getting depressed. I was living alone for the first time, in another country, away from family, and friends, and worried about their health and safety. Everyone here was kind and welcoming, and I was pushing myself so hard to make a good impression. I felt very lonely and cried constantly. I was wondering, if this was my dream, why didn’t I feel happy? In Mexico, I had a good job and had started giving classes to medical students. Now, I was a trainee again, and there were a thousand things that I didn’t know how to do or solve. There were days where I wondered if coming here and leaving everything behind had been a mistake.
A few months later, I realized that the situation that we all have gone through with the pandemic has been something unprecedented. I noticed that many were having the same issues and shared my feelings of overwhelm, but we were all really trying to do our best. I learned to appreciate everything I have, to not be so hard on myself, and to manage my own expectations. Some days, I still have problems with my imposter syndrome, and I still miss many things, but I feel very fortunate. Here, I’ve found wonderful people who have treated me as one of their own and taught me more than they can imagine. Now, feeling more adapted, fully vaccinated, with the arrival of the spring and being able to go to more places with less restrictions, I’m improving in all aspects. Success and happiness are not defined by a title, money, or publications, but by knowing that our loved ones are safe and by our side (even at a distance). We all have our own path and timing. Be gentle to yourself.
Dr. Rocío E. Carrera Cerón is a general and thoracoscopic surgeon and is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for Videoendoscopic Surgery (CVES) at the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her medical degree from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in 2012 and completed her residency and fellowship at the Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición Salvador Zubirán (INCMNSZ) in 2017 and 2018 respectively. She is engaged in clinical research studies with special interest in surgical outcomes and health disparities. She actively participates in local groups and national associations of women and Latino surgeons trying to mentor residents and students interested in the surgical field. A native of Mexico City, she is passionate about sports, cinema, and historical novels. You can follow her on Twitter @ChioCarreraC.
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