By Francesca Voza
Just a few weeks ago, I was preparing for the biggest event of my life: celebrating my medical school graduation at 42 years old. Moreover, I am about to embark on the exciting adventure of becoming a surgeon. I wanted this to be a firework of joy, shared with whoever would be happy for me.
When obtaining my high school diploma in 1997, I departed from my hometown of Fort-de-France, Martinique, a small dot located in the Caribbean Archipelago. My plan was straightforward:
- Join my sister studying in the capital city of Paris, France
- Work hard to pursue medical studies
- Become a physician
- Care for patients
Little did I know that severe mental illness would suddenly hit both my little brother and my father back home. Despite the query and the feelings of worry, fear and guilt, I remained focused on my studies. Nevertheless, my selecting exam rank as 135/635 met closed doors to medical school in France. With a cutoff at 112/635 as the sole means to pursue medical/dental studies in France, I was “EXCLUDED FROM MEDICAL STUDIES” as mentioned in all caps on my transcripts. My dream crushed, my family perturbed, I climbed my way back up, studying biological sciences to finally earn a master’s degree in pharmacology. Having completed my graduate studies, I crossed the ocean again for research opportunities in vibrant New York City. My plan was once again straightforward:
- Work in a research lab for two-three years
- Apply to a PhD program
- Become a teaching scientist
Or, maybe, an MD-PhD program? An MD program? My interest in medicine quickly revived as I learned more about the possibility of integrating into a medical school in the United States. No obstacles were going to stop me this time. No GPA, no credit history, not a dime to my name, it did not matter. Three years as a research technician in a lab became six, then twelve, while going back to undergraduate school in the US, to finally earn a spot in my top choice medical school and discover the place I belong: the Operating Room.
Following a successful match into my first-choice residency program, I reflect on the journey.
I was of course determined but contrary to the teenager in 1997, I did not seclude myself. Today, being kept distanced from one another because of a dreadful pandemic, I value even more those every single person who came along. The professors who encouraged, the colleagues who understood, the bosses who trusted, the mentors who guided, the peers who taught, the role models who inspired, the friends who listened, the patients who shared, the believers who prayed, and the family who loved… Thank you! Thank you for taking me to where I am today.
None of us knows what the future holds, but what we do know is that together we’ll continue the journey. Together, we’ll continue to navigate through the storm and become stronger.
Francesca A Voza, MS, is receiving her MD degree and Global Health Certificate from the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York this spring. She is honored to join the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Health System for a categorical position in general surgery. Born and raised as a dual French/American citizen in Martinique, Francesca obtained the equivalent of a BS in Biology & Biochemistry from the University of Paris-Est Creteil (UPEC)/Paris XII and an MS in Pharmacology from the University of René Descartes/Paris V. She worked as a research technician at the Erlangen-Nuremberg University in Erlangen, Germany, at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, and at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. During this time, she co-authored 12 peer-reviewed scientific articles and pursued post-baccalaureate classes at the CUNY-Hunter College with a major in psychology. A lover of outdoor activities and live music performances, Francesca used to sing in the chorus of the New York Grand Opera (NYGO) and celebrates her Afro-Caribbean heritage when playing Haitian drums with mentors from La Troupe Makandal. As a Student National Medical Association (SNMA) leader in her Cornell chapter and member of the Susan Smith McKinney Steward Medical Society (SSMS), Francesca advocates for equity in the medical field and empowerment of underrepresented minority students at all levels. She’s interested in pursuing a career in academic surgery, as a pediatric or thoracic surgeon. She can be found on Twitter @fravoza
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