Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Immigrant Parents of Premeds

Yasamin Rahmani

My parents’ wedding in Kabul – 1993. My mom is wearing a green dress as part of the Islamic ceremonial tradition. She’s escorted by her relatives and friends, and my father to her right.

Lately I find myself having trouble explaining to my parents why some of the things that I do to prepare myself for medical school are important. From attending conferences to extracurricular activities, to everything I do in addition to classes as I try my best to navigate towards my career. I’m an off-campus student, and have been living with my parents since freshman year. It has it perks: it’s financially feasible for me and I have a great support system. But sometimes telling my parents about the things I do and why can be frustrating. It’s not that I don’t love them being part of my life, –quite the opposite. I want them to know that their sacrifices and escape from the civil war they once lived in is all paying off. I know from the bottom of my heart that every step they took, every bullet and every bomb they dodged was all for my sister and I to have a better future. My father was a diplomat in Afghanistan during the semi-communist regime during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. After the Taliban took over the government, my father become a political refugee and was forced to escape with my mother. They went to Uzbekistan where I was born, and a year later we ended up in Moscow. At one point we visited Pakistan then, came back, moving around Russia. In November 2005, we claimed political asylum in the United States. I was a refugee until the age of 15, my parents became naturalized American citizens in 2011.

My dad had just gotten his kidney stones removed during our trip to Pakistan. I’m playing doctor and writing him a medical slip. (circa 2000)

There have already been several doctors in my family, but their path to medicine was very different than mine. My grandfather was a doctor in Afghanistan and travelled between Kabul and Germany practicing and teaching medicine. I also have had aunts who practiced medicine in Pakistan. In current contrast to the United States, the demand to volunteer, do internships, partake in research and extracurricular activities was not as significant at when they were in school. They were more academically focused.

In my case, I’ve spent the past four years trying to make sure I did a little bit of everything. I tried to prepare myself the moment I became a freshman in high school. My expectations were different than what they are now, but I knew that just doing well in school was not enough. Once I got to college, I practiced the languages that I know (Russian, Farsi, French), began volunteering once a week, started doing research, and worked on getting clinical experience, and still, I feel as though I should be doing more!  Through the pursuit of becoming a well-rounded person, I have grained a lot of knowledge from the different people whom I’ve had the honor to work with. These experiences have made me a more open minded and versatile person, and closer to the kind of doctor I want to be in the future.

But when it comes to explaining to my parents or my relatives why I choose to spend more of my time volunteering than working at a paying job, I always get confused looks. At times, I might get criticized because I could be at the library studying.  It becomes upsetting because there is a loss in translation. We’re speaking the same language but the meaning and the intention is missing. There have been occasions where I’ve let the criticism get to me, sometimes even doubting why I’m doing all these extra activities for my career. Why isn’t just doing well in school enough? The demand, at times, can feel backbreaking.

With my mom and dad at the Red Square, it was about 45 minutes away (by metro) from where we lived. (circa 2004)

So, I took a step back and reevaluated why I was doing what I was doing. Why had I been putting so much stress on myself for my career? I closed my eyes thought of the things that made me happy. The friendly smile from a stranger at the hospital, the Eureka moment after many hours of reading research papers, and the feeling of belonging. It reminded me that there is passion present in everything I was doing. An eagerness to do more, learn more, and grow more. To build a path to medicine that’s my own.

So now, I’ve stopped being disappointed when someone doesn’t understand what I’m doing, or why. If it makes sense to me to stay up until 5am to finish my thesis, or to stay an extra hour and volunteer, then it is all worthwhile. Everything I do outside of the classroom has helped me grow as a person. The simple gesture of helping someone’s foot up the paddle on their wheelchair humbles me. I have a great appreciation for the opportunity to sit in a classroom learning about human anatomy instead of struggling to escape suicide bombs and senseless violence like my parents did. And even though sometimes it’s hard to explain that to my family and friends, I’m most certain that they will see it pay off one day.

About Yasamin Rahmani

Yasamin new headshotYasamin Rahmani is an undergraduate student and a peer mentor at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. She is currently pursuing her Bachelors of Science in Biology, and aspires to become an Emergency Physician. Yasamin’s parents are immigrants from Kabul, Afghanistan, and, after spending a small portion of time in Tashkent, she moved with her family to Moscow where she spent majority of her childhood. At the age of ten Yasamin moved to the United States, where her affinity for the field of medicine came to fruition. While moving from country to country, Yasamin refined her language skills and is fluent in Farsi, French and Russian. Aside from her passion for medicine, Yasamin takes part in cultural understanding and historical research about Afghanistan. Some of her publications include co-authoring Afghan Proverbs Illustrated Russian-Dari, from which all profits are donated to literacy courses in Afghanistan, as well as co-editing Art through the Ages in Afghanistan. Yasamin hopes to use her diverse background and her love of medicine as tools in the rapid globalization of the field medicine. During her free time, Yasamin significantly enjoys writing, dancing, volunteering and being involved in philanthropy projects.


3 thoughts on “Immigrant Parents of Premeds

  1. You may want to consider a job as a medical scribe. My son is one where we live. Many scribe positions are in the ER. Check out ScribeAmerica online to see if they are in your area. Or I believe there is another scribe company that covers ERs across the country. Your parents will be happy that you are paid and it’s even better than shadowing an MD. Good luck:)

  2. Hi Yasmin,
    I’m a freshman at UMBC majoring in English Literature while taking Pre-Med classes. Your vigor, passion, and compassion inspire me. My grandfather and mother went to medical school in India so I definitely can relate to how much more we have to do to get into medical school as Pre-med students than just studying. I’m Indian, however after reading novels written by Afghan authors, my love for Afghanistan, its culture, people, and resilience grew, so I wish you all the best in your future philanthropic endeavors. 🙂 God bless.

  3. While reading your article, all I kept saying was, “me too!” over and over again! My parents also picked up all their belongings and moved to the United States in search of better education and a better future for my siblings and I. I am questioned about my constant volunteer activities, extracurricular activities, certification programs, research, and the various speaker events I attend. I began doubting myself at one point, just as you are. The worst part is when I am running on a lack of sleep, my dad tries to convince me to skip my day and sleep in (this is nearly everyday). While I respect my dad’s concern for my health, it would be a lot easier if he understood that I am passionate about what I do. I know a lot of students hate and resent Organic Chemistry, but I find myself in pure fascination studying for this course. While my friends attend tutoring in an attempt to receive an “A” for the class, I sit in my room trying to understand the different reactions because they interest me. My experience, though, is a little different than yours in that I have no doctors in my family. No one in my family is educated beyond the equivalent of a high school degree. My sisters are the first to attain college educations, and even they chose non-science fields. So it follows that no one understands my long study hours, let alone all my other activities that I am passionate about.

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